Bird Flu: 45 departments put on high alert

France has no reported cases of avian flu, but authorities have raised the risk level to 'high' to reduce the risk of migratory animals spreading the disease

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Poultry and duck farmers in 45 French departments face additional restrictions after avian flu risk level was raised to 'high'.

France is currently free of the highly pathogenic avian influenza, authorities said, but issued the alert obliging farmers to take measures to prevent contact between wild and farmed birds and mitigate against the risk of the devastating illness spreading from migratory birds.

The full list of affected departments can be seen on a decree published in the Journal Officiel

The measures are justified by "the need to take urgent and immediate preventive measures to protect French poultry farms from potential contamination by the avian influenza virus from wild birds, particularly in areas at particular risk or departments crossed by migration corridors," the decree states.

Departments known for their foie gras production, such as the Landes and Gers, are included in the affected areas. The risk remains qualified as "moderate" in the other departments. The return of this virus to the national territory would have major economic consequences for the industry, which could see the closure of export outlets.

Duck farmers in the southwest of France have been hit twice, in the winters of 2015/16 and 2016/17, by bird flu outbreaks, which had led to massive culling to eradicate the disease and cost producers hundreds of millions of euros.

The move to a "high" risk triggers the introduction of reinforced protection measures, including the requirement for all commercial poultry farms and backyard premises to contain domestic birds to prevent contact with wild birds. In addition, gatherings of live poultry are banned, especially at markets, as are the release of game birds by hunters.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture's statement in its decree, the aim is to "take into account the unfavourable health trends with regard to avian influenza in poultry in Europe".

Since outbreaks in Russia and Kazakhstan this summer, the disease, which poses no danger to humans, has spread westwards, recently reaching the Netherlands.

"Since then, a dynamic of infection has developed, with 13 cases in wildlife and an outbreak in broiler farms in the Netherlands and 13 cases in wild birds in Germany. On November 3, the UK also declared a first outbreak in northwest England," the ministry said.