France faces ‘unprecedented’ bird flu crisis

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

A string of countries, including China and Japan, have banned imports of French poultry
A string of countries, including China and Japan, have banned imports of French poultry

Related tags Bird flu Influenza Avian influenza Livestock Poultry

Bird flu in France has reached “crisis” stage, according to the French government, after the total number of bird flu cases hit 30 this week. 

Outbreaks of various highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI) strains have tripled in a week as France confirmed its poultry sector was now in “crisis​” during the worst possible time – the busy and financially positive run-up to Christmas and New Year.

France’s bird flu outbreaks have developed progressively as three cases of the low pathogenic H5N3 strain were detected in three separate farms in the south west of the country. What this means is that bird flu is now a multi-strain crisis in France with cases of the H5N1, H5N2 and H5N9 strain all having been reported in a fortnight.

Strains of H5N3 were discovered on two farms in the Landes area of south-western France with the others being found in the Pyrenées-Atlantiques. The detections were made after French health officials ran a nationwide surveillance campaign of poultry farms as fears that the virus could spread took hold.

The emergence of four different pathogenic strains in such a short time was described as “unprecedented​” by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on Wednesday 16 December. One possible hypothesis for the rapid spread is that the low pathogenic strains have evolved into highly pathogenic ones, according to the OIE.
No 'risk'​ 

Despite the developments in the bird flu outbreak, the French government has been quick to remind consumers that they are safe. “There is no risk to human health,​” a farm minster for France said on Wednesday 16 December. The government official also added that the discovery of the low-pathogenic strain would have “no impact on our [the French Government’s] management of the crisis​”.

Since France’s first bird flu outbreak in eight years​ was reported by GlobalMeatNews just over a fortnight ago, a string of countries have banned imports of poultry. Japan and China remain the most worrying ones for France, as the two Asian states are big importers of foie gras.

Other countries to have imposed a ban on poultry products​ and live chickens include Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, South Korea, Thailand and Tunisia.

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