France steps up duck cull as bird flu hits foie gras farms

French authorities plan to expand their culls of ducks reared for the controversial delicacy foie gras as an outbreak of bird flu rips through the southwest of the country, a producers' federation said Thursday.

France steps up duck cull as bird flu hits foie gras farms
Ducklings at a duck farm in Mugron, southwestern France, on December 29th, 2020. Photo: AFP

The highly pathogenic H5N8 virus was first detected in a bird in a pet shop on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in November before spreading to duck farms on the mainland in December.

 “The virus is stronger than us. New clusters are constantly emerging,” the head of the CIFOQ federation of foie gras producers, Marie-Pierre Pe, told AFP, warning of a “runaway increase” in confirmed and suspected cases. 

She said that around 100 clusters had been identified, mainly in the Landes department, a bastion of the foie gras industry, and that the authorities planned to step up culls.

The agriculture ministry declined to comment.

On Tuesday, France's chief veterinary officer, Loic Evain, said that over 200,000 ducks had already been slaughtered and that a further 400,000 birds were set to be culled, out of around 35 million reared each year in France.

He described the virus, which is not harmful to humans, as “very, very contagious”.

The most recent update from the agriculture ministry, which dates to January 1st, cited 61 clusters detected among birds on duck farms and in pet shops. Of these, 48 were in the Landes area.

Pe said the government's strategy of localised preventive culls was “insufficient” which revealed the state's “powerlessness in the face of a virus which is moving faster than us.”

The head of the chamber of agriculture, Sébastien Windsor, called Wednesday for “radical measures” to try to restore confidence in export markets such as China which announced Wednesday it was suspending French poultry imports over the outbreak.

Producers of foie gras, a paté made from the livers of force-fed ducks or geese, fear a repeat of the devastation wrought by two previous waves of bird flu in the winters of 2015/2016 and 2016/2017.

READ ALSO From frogs to foie gras: Your guide to French dinner etiquette

Over 25 million ducks were culled in the first outbreak, followed by 4.5 million the following year, causing a steep decline in foie gras production.

The Netherlands, Sweden, Britain and Ireland have also reported bird flu outbreaks since November. Dutch authorities culled some 190,000 chickens in November over the discovery of a highly contagious strain of the virus at two farms.

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WTO rules US tariffs on Spanish olives breach rules

A US decision to slap steep import duties on Spanish olives over claims they benefited from subsidies constituted a violation of international trade rules, the World Trade Organisation ruled Friday.

WTO rules US tariffs on Spanish olives breach rules
Farmers had just begun harvesting olives in southern Spain when former US President Donald Trump soured the mood with the tariffs' announcement. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Former US president Donald Trump’s administration slapped extra tariffs on Spain’s iconic agricultural export in 2018, considering their olives were subsidised and being dumped on the US market at prices below their real value.

The combined rates of the anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties go as high as 44 percent.

The European Commission, which handles trade policy for the 27 EU states, said the move was unacceptable and turned to the WTO, where a panel of experts was appointed to examine the case.

In Friday’s ruling, the WTO panel agreed with the EU’s argument that the anti-subsidy duties were illegal.

But it did not support its stance that the US anti-dumping duties violated international trade rules.

The panel said it “recommended that the United States bring its measures into conformity with its obligations”.

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis hailed the ruling, pointing out that the US duties “severely hit Spanish olive producers.”

Demonstrators take part in a 2019 protest in Madrid, called by the olive sector
Demonstrators take part in a 2019 protest in Madrid called by the olive sector to denounce low prices of olive oil and the 25 percent tariff that Spanish olives and olive oil faced in the United States. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

“We now expect the US to take the appropriate steps to implement the WTO ruling, so that exports of ripe olives from Spain to the US can resume under normal conditions,” he said.

The European Commission charges that Spain’s exports of ripe olives to the United States, which previously raked in €67 million ($75.6 million) annually, have shrunk by nearly 60 percent since the duties were imposed.

The office of the US Trade Representative in Washington did not immediately comment on the ruling.

According to WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to file for an appeal.

If the United States does file an appeal though, it would basically amount to a veto of the ruling.

That is because the WTO Appellate Body — also known as the supreme court of world trade — stopped functioning in late 2019 after Washington blocked the appointment of new judges.