France begins vaccinating millions of ducks against bird flu

PARIS (AFP) – France began vaccinating millions of ducks against bird flu on Monday, hoping to avoid a new “tsunami” of the viral disease that has killed tens of millions of birds in recent years.

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“The pressure from the virus remains high, but vaccination should treat isolated cases on farms and avoid a tsunami,” said Jocelyn Marguerie of the SNGTV Veterinary Association.

Faced with a recurring bird flu crisis, France has decided to make preventive vaccination mandatory for farms with more than 250 ducks (excluding breeders) starting from October 1.

The cost for the 2023-2024 season is almost 100 million euros (about 105 million U.S. dollars), which is much lower than the 650 million euros (687 million U.S. dollars) to compensate poultry farmers during the 2021-2022 crisis.

The vaccination focus is on ducks, which are raised for the production of “foie gras,” or meat, because they are highly susceptible to the virus and shed it into the environment before developing symptoms, thereby facilitating its spread.

Bird flu spreads across the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, hitting France from 2015 to 2017 and again since late 2020. However, bird flu has not been detected on French farms since July.

When cases occur, birds on the affected and nearby farms are culled preventatively, permanently affecting production and causing economic losses to accumulate.

The government hopes to end this cycle with a vaccine. The department estimates that by summer 2024, approximately 60 million ducks will have to be vaccinated (two doses per duck).

The first dose will be given to 10-day-old ducklings. The first vaccines will lead to full immunity in December, but for many poultry farmers this will be too late as the virus may emerge earlier.

The department is also monitoring the response in export markets. Japan will suspend imports from France after vaccination begins, an official from Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries told AFP.

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