New cases of bird flu in south west France

France reported three more cases of highly pathogenic bird flu in the southwest of the country on Monday, just as the demand for foie gras is set to peak for the festive season.

New cases of bird flu in south west France
A picture taken on November 25, 2015 shows a placard reading "Sanitary police - Access forbidden" outside a house where an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has been detected. Photo: AFP

France, Europe’s biggest agriculture producer, is desperately trying to contain its first outbreak of bird flu since 2006.

On Tuesday it was confirmed that a fourth case had been detected at a poultry farm in the Dordogne and for the first time three cases have been found in the nearby Landes region.

The latest outbreak in the Dordogne was found at a duck and chicken farm in Cénac-et-Saint-Julien in the Périgord and prompted the slaughter of around 4,500 chickens and 1,000 ducks.

In the villages of Doazit and Horsarrieu in the Landes region three cases were confirmed at a duck fattening farm and at a farm for guinea fowl, capon and chickens, France’s agriculture ministry said.

The return of bird flu in France comes just before demand for foie gras, produced from duck or goose liver, peaks over the festive period.

While most of the foie gras that will be sold in France was already produced, packaged and distributed before the recent outbreak, the spread of the virus may put many consumers off.

Eight countries have already restricted imports of French poultry birds and products due to the outbreak, including Japan which is France's biggest export market for foie gras, but banned imports of the delicacy last week.

The agriculture ministry has stressed the measures it had taken to avoid a spread of the virus, including active surveillance and trade restrictions.

“France decided to forbid exportation of all living animals and hatching eggs from the Dordogne and Landes departments,” it said in a statement.

There is no evidence that bird flu can be transmitted to humans via food, but certain strains have infected and in some cases killed people who were in direct contact with sick animals, notably in Asia, Reuters news agency stated.

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Ban ‘barbaric’ French foie gras, Danish politicians urge EU

Danish left-wing party SF (Socialist People’s Party) wants a debate on whether it should be legal to produce and sell French delicacy foie gras in the EU.

Ban 'barbaric' French foie gras, Danish politicians urge EU
File photo: Benoit Tessier / Reuters / Ritzau Scanpix

The party, a parliamentary ally of the governing Social Democrats, wants foie gras banned in the European Union and has called its production “barbaric”.

“It is one of the most barbaric ways food can be produced. These birds are treated very badly, and we don’t think it’s okay,” SF spokesperson on food Carl Valentin said.

“Danes have actually already morally rejected this to a large extent. Consumption is falling fast [in Denmark, ed.] and production is already illegal in Denmark. That’s why we’re focusing on this issue,” Valentin continued.

Discussion of the matter by politicians follows a decision by management at Torvehallerne, an upscale food market in Copenhagen, to recommend its concession holders not to sell the French dish, a paté made from the livers of geese or ducks.

Torvehallerne made the decision after customers posted complaints on its Facebook page over the sale of foie gras at Ma Poule, a stand at the market which sells French specialities.

Although production of the delicacy is banned in Denmark, importing it is not, as such a ban is prevented by European Single Market laws.

Foie gras production involves overfeeding geese and duck for the last two weeks before they are slaughtered. This causes them to develop fatty liver disease, with the organ expanding to six to ten times its normal size, according to Danish animal welfare charity Dyrenes Beskyttelse.

90 percent of foie gras now comes from geese, rather than duck, which was previously the preferred bird, according to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA). Although the majority of production is in France, the foodstuff is also made in Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain and Hungary.

EU rules do forbid foie gras from being produced in places where it has not previously been made, according to the DVFA website.

Valentin said he wanted the union to outlaw what he termed a “dish for the upper classes”.

“The reason I mention the upper class is that this is very much a dish for the upper classes. I think it’s sad that there’s so little focus on animal welfare and more thought goes to pleasing taste buds than protecting animals,” the SF spokesperson said.

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