France is to slaughter several million poultry birds in the second mass cull of flocks this winter as the country tries to contain outbreaks of avian influenza, the agriculture ministry said.
After a wave of cases in the southwest led to the culling of around 4 million animals, the ministry said the disease has spread rapidly since last month in the Pays de la Loire region, another major poultry zone further up France's west coast.
The authorities had slaughtered 1.2 million birds so far in the region and expect to cull another 3 million, as they adopt the same strategy as in the southwest by emptying poultry farms in areas near outbreaks, a ministry official said.
Avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, is often carried by wild birds in autumn and winter. The highly contagious H5N1 strain has been spreading quickly in Europe in recent months, prompting massive culls in several countries.
Bird flu cannot be passed on to humans through the eating of poultry products, although there have been occasional cases of humans catching strains of the disease.
In January of this year, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said a wave of bird flu in Asia and Europe has a greater risk of spreading to humans because of a high number of variants.
As the Pays de la Loire region is a major supplier of chicks, the authorities would grant an exemption to allow reproduction farms in high-risk zones to continue supplying the rest of the country, notably the southwest that is about to resume breeding after its bird flu lockdown, the ministry added.
Bird flu outbreaks have added to pressure on poultry producers who are facing a jump in feed costs due to record grain prices, partly linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
France and the European Union have promised special aid for livestock sectors.