PARIS - France has commenced a vaccination campaign against bird flu, aiming to combat the virus responsible for the deaths of millions of birds worldwide. This initiative has led to trade restrictions imposed by the United States on French poultry imports. France has been severely impacted by the global spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly referred to as bird flu, disrupting the supply of poultry meat and eggs and causing price fluctuations in various regions in recent years.
The significant losses incurred by its poultry industry and concerns over the potential human transmission of the virus prompted the French government to launch a compulsory vaccination campaign, making it the first European Union country to do so.
On Monday, the first doses of the vaccine were administered to ducks on a farm in the Landes region of southwestern France, with Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau in attendance. Fesneau commented to reporters, "It's a moment of optimism; we have the feeling of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."
The agriculture ministry has stated that vaccination will be mandatory for all ducks on farms with over 250 birds whose products are intended for sale as meat or foie gras. This requirement applies to approximately 2,700 farms, totaling 64 million ducks, and comes with an estimated cost of nearly 100 million euros ($105 million), with 85% of the funding provided by the state.
The CIFOG, a group representing duck and foie gras producers, has expressed support for the vaccination initiative. In their statement, they described it as a "world first" with the goal of protecting all farmed birds and putting an end to the preventive culling of animals, a practice widely discouraged.
Governments around the world have increasingly considered vaccination as a means to contain the highly contagious bird flu. However, concerns about potential trade barriers resulting from such vaccinations have made major poultry exporters hesitant to inoculate their birds.
The United States initiated import restrictions on French poultry starting from October 1, citing the risk of introducing the virus into the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that vaccinated birds may not exhibit signs of infection, making it challenging to determine whether the virus is present in a flock.
Despite ongoing discussions, Japan also expressed reluctance to accept French poultry post-vaccination, according to Fesneau.
Initially, the bird flu vaccination effort in France will focus on ducks, as they are the most susceptible to the virus. In 2022, ducks accounted for only 8% of the total French poultry production.