France launched Europe’s sole bird flu vaccination campaign in ducks on Monday, seeking to avert catastrophic culls of millions of birds, which have cost the sector dearly in prior years.
“There’s high pressure from the virus, but vaccination should mean we only face individual cases, avoiding the tidal wave sweeping through farms,” said Jocelyn Marguerie, poultry chief at the SNGTV farm vets’ association.
The two-jab course for ducklings — starting at 10 days old — is obligatory in farms raising more than 250 birds from October.
Producing livers for foie gras or meat, France’s duck sector is especially sensitive to the virus.
The birds shed it before symptoms ever appear, allowing it to spread unchecked.
France’s chicken population had a surge of bird flu in 2015-17, and there have been nearly continual occurrences since 2020 — despite the fact that there are now no disease hotspots.
The discovery of a case necessitates culling for the entire farm and others nearby, interrupting productivity in the long run and imposing a significant financial burden on producers.
“I’ve been caught up in four culls since 2016. I hope we’ll get back to being unscathed. (Vaccination) has to work!” said Thierry Dezes, who raises ducks in the southwestern Landes region and plans to jab some 5,000 ducklings.
Vets expect a total of around 60 million ducks should be vaccinated by summer next year.
France’s first 80 million doses will come from pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, meaning the government will have to invite tenders for more supply.
But the campaign is not going uncontested.
One farmer in the Landes region told AFP that clients were “calling to tell me they don’t want meat from vaccinated ducks” and asked to remain nameless to safeguard her business.
On export markets, there is concern that immunization may disguise avian flu that is circulating undetected in the duck population.
A senior official from Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture told AFP that after the vaccination program began, Tokyo would stop imports of French chicken goods.