French Foie Gras Production Heavily Hit by Threats of Bird Flu

January 22
5:42 AM 2016

Because of a bird flu virus outbreak, French poultry producers will stop making new duck and goose products until at least late May, including the much debated, but culturally loved, foie gras. The outbreak has occurred in the southwest of the country, where the delicacy is mainly produced.

The pause on poultry production was settled at a meeting between farm ministry officials and sector representatives on January 14 and submitted for approval t o the European Commission this week. Production will cease new rearing from January 18.

Starting from that date, those in the poultry industry in the region will be cleaned and disinfected before being allowed to resume. Those who have already started rearing will be allowed to continue until the animals have gone through processing.

Christophe Barrailh, head of the CIFOP group that represents the foie gras industry, told AFP his outlook on the effect of the disease. "In the most optimistic scenario... a third of this region's (usual) output will not be produced."

Isabelle Daugreilh, a producer in southwestern France, told The Telegraph about the negative effect of the production measures on small farmers.

"It's catastrophic for many small producers who had run out of stocks over the New Year and hoped to build them back up again in time for the (summer) tourist influx. Now we can't start fattening geese until June so won't have anything to sell."

The outbreak occurred during the end of the year peak demand for poultry specialties such as foie gras, made from duck or goose liver. Such delay in production would cost the foie gras industry around 250-300 million euros.

Already aware of the threat to the French poultry production, the government had set up a broad restriction zone in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading. The highly virulent H5N1 strain of the disease was found at a farm that was located outside of the zone in Dordogne in November.

Reuters reported the ministry's statement about the pause in production. "This plan will allow the re-establishment of healthy ducklings, in sanitized farms, by the end of the first half. Production will then be able to resume to ensure production for the year-end celebrations in good conditions."

Countries around the world, including Japan, the world's largest importer of foie gras, have imposed restrictions on French poultry products because of the disease. Dominique Duprat of Delpeyrat, producer of 13 percent of the foie gras market estimated that the existing stocks of foie gras could last through Easter, but was unsure of the availability by Christmas and New Year this year.

H5N1 is highly lethal to bird and does not infect humans easily, but if transmission does successfully occur, about 60 percent of cases are fatal, according to the World Health Organization. Transmission can occur when a human comes in contact with a live bird that is already sick with the virus. 

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