To safeguard its flocks and its foie gras from the ravages of bird flu, France has initiated a mass vaccine of 64 million ducks.
The effort, which started this week, aims to prevent the spread of a lethal type of avian influenza that has led French farmers to shoot more than 30 million birds in the previous three years, leading to a fall in the production of foie gras.
Agricultural minister Marc Fesneau visited duck farmer Éric Dumas’s property near Bordeaux to launch the campaign, sparking “a real glimmer of hope,” Dumas said in a statement.
Mr. Fesneau called the bird vaccination programme the first of its kind in the European Union, but it has already prompted a swift response from the United States, which announced that it will limit imports of ducks and other fowl from Europe. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “France’s decision to vaccinate presents a risk” of spreading the illness into the country.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI, has killed an estimated 60 million farmed birds in the United States and other countries over the past several years.
Farmers in France have previously tried to stop the spread of the virus by increasing health inspections, decreasing the number of birds on farms, and even resorting to culling. The number of ducks available for foie gras production dropped by 35% in 2022 as a result of these measures, as reported by the foie gras committee.
The liver of a duck or goose that has been stuffed with grain is known as foie gras. Some consider the meal to be a pinnacle of French cuisine, while others claim the methods used to make it amount to pain and cruelty to animals.
There are 64 million birds, and the French government plans to vaccinate all of them. There are more than 250 ducks in farms in France. More people in France have gotten the coronavirus vaccination than any other country; two doses of the vaccine are necessary.
Chicks will get their first immunisation when they are 10 days old, and then again eight days later. The effort will continue into next year and will be “a real technical and financial challenge,” according to the foie gras organisation.
French veterinarian and bird expert Jocelyn Marguerie claimed his organisation collaborated with the government on the program’s design. He explained that ducks were chosen because of the virus’s rapid reproduction and transmission in that species.
The majority of the program’s price tag, estimated at 80 million euros (about $84 million), will be covered by the government. According to a recent report from the French parliament, the government paid out more than €1 billion in 2021 and 2022 to compensate farmers who were forced to slaughter their birds.
With the potential for a human-transmissible strain of avian flu, public health officials have ramped up their response.
On September 29th, the Agriculture Department made its decision public. There will be a ban on European imports of live ducks, duck eggs, and unprocessed duck products. Vaccines are a good way to prevent the spread of the H5N1 virus, and the symptoms of the virus in the wild are similar to those of the H5N1 vaccine.
According to a statement released by the French Ministry of Agriculture, negotiations are underway “to provide all the elements of reassurance which will allow the American restrictions to be quickly lifted.”
Ms Pé argued that the prohibition would not affect French foie gras farmers since they are unable to export to the US without a licence.
Mr Marguerie, the avian vet, said that despite the immunisations, vets will still be sent out to take random swabs of the ducks to check for contamination.