France tightens poultry farm measures amid bird flu outbreak in Europe

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By AFP  with Euronews
Duck breeders load ducks into a truck in Saint Aubin, southwestern France.
Duck breeders load ducks into a truck in Saint Aubin, southwestern France.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Bob Edme, File

French authorities have ordered all outdoor poultry farms to shelter animals indoors amid fresh outbreaks of bird flu in Europe.

Farmers have been told to install nets and confine their poultry this winter to avoid potential contact with infected, migratory birds.

The risk level for bird flu was raised to "high" in mainland France on Friday, due to the increase in cases near French borders.

"Since the beginning of August, 130 cases or outbreaks of avian influenza have been detected in wildlife or on farms in Europe," the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

Farms in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands have all reported outbreaks in recent weeks.

Dutch commercial farms were also ordered last week to keep all poultry inside, while 36,000 animals were culled in the central province of Flevoland.

"In Italy, six outbreaks have been detected in broiler turkey farms in the Verona region since 19 October," the French ministry added.

"Reinforced prevention measures will therefore be implemented to protect poultry farms."

Under the new restrictions, poultry gatherings and racing pigeon competitions are banned until March, while birds in zoos must also be confined or vaccinated.

France had previously raised the bird flu alert level to "moderate" in September after a severe strain of the virus was detected in the Ardennes region.

France is still recovering from an influenza outbreak in the southwest that saw more than 3.5 million birds culled last winter.

The French government is hoping that increased measures will prevent a similar mass outbreak this winter. At present, the authorities allow poultry over ten weeks old to be kept in a small space.

But the confinement measures are often opposed by poultry farmers, as sales of turkeys and foie gras increase around the end-of-year holidays.

In a joint statement, the Confédération Paysanne and Modef unions said the French government had "declared war" on many farmers in the country.

"The minister of Agriculture is choosing to sacrifice the free-range sector in the hope of allowing the industrial sector to export as long as possible," they said.

So far, France's commercial farms are still "free" of bird flu, meaning that export sales have not been affected.