16 million animals slaughtered, from breeders to RSA

Three weeks without any new farm affected by avian flu. Breeders and the entire poultry industry are blowing. This Wednesday, June 8, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that the whole of France was back at risk negligible ». Ducks and chickens that had to stay confined to avoid contact with wild birds will be able to come out. Only the departments of Dordogne, Vendée, Maine-et-Loire and Loire-Atlantique, the most recently affected, will have to wait a little longer.

But the calm is relative, after a devastating storm. The balance sheet is cataclysmic », believes Barbara Dufour, specialist in contagious diseases and professor at the veterinary school of Alfort. For this fourth episode of avian flu in France, 1,378 outbreaks in farms were recorded and 16 million poultry had to be slaughtered. This is almost three times more outbreaks and more than four times more slaughtered poultry than during the winter crisis 2020-2021 [1]already considered catastrophic at the time.

Above all, the Pays de la Loire were hard hit for the first time. It is from this region that almost three quarters of the ducklings come. To have new ones, you have to raise breeding stock, create new lines to obtain ducklings. It will take at least fifteen months before a normal situation is restored. »says Marie-Pierre Pé, President of the Cifogthe foie gras interprofession. It is estimated that production volumes will drop by 50 % This year. » The production of guinea fowl and turkeys is also hard hit.

Producers throw in the towel »

This crisis will reverberate for almost two more years at all levels of the sector. »worries Sylvie Colas, spokesperson for the Confédération paysanne du Gers. In the meantime how many breeders will disappear ? » The Confédération paysanne fears that small farmers will be the first to be affected, in particular because they have less possibility of being supported by their bank while waiting for state aid. In the Landes, we note that the requests for RSA by farmers are on the rise, and sales of poultry sites are exploding »adds Christophe Mesplède, of the Movement for the Defense of Family Farmers in the Department. Producers are throwing in the towel. »

I shot the last duck today [mardi 7 juin]I will have new ducklings only at the end of July, if I have them »explains Jean-François Roudier, secretary of the Peasant Confederation of Dordogne. I will start felling and producing again in November, at best. Until then, this represents a loss of 5,000 to 7,000 euros each week. I have two employees who no longer have a job from next week. »

In 2021, in the Landes, these free-range ducks were loaded into the veterinary services truck, then slaughtered.

The State has already started to pay aid to breeders. The Ministry of Agriculture made the accounts Tuesday, June 7. To compensate for the slaughter of poultry, 54 million euros have been distributed but in all the sums paid could approach 190 million euros. On the side of economic aid, only the North and the South-West, the first contaminated areas, have begun to affect them. 17 million have been paid out of the 33 million planned for these regions. The hatcheries, that is to say the farms where the eggs are hatched, have aid of 121 million euros reserved for them. There are still unknowns regarding aid for other regions, downstream of the sector, egg producers.

The bill will be salted. The crisis will cost 1.5 billion euros », estimates Sylvie Colas at the Confédération paysanne, which is about three times more than in other years. All of this is proof of the ineffectiveness of last year’s roadmap »adds his colleague Denis Perreau.

This roadmap provided for a set of health measures to precisely avoid disaster. Discussions have already started within the profession to modify it before next September and the possible next episode of avian flu. A first meeting is scheduled at the ministry on June 15 with the poultry interprofessions.

The race for increasingly strict biosecurity measures

In 2021, the Confédération paysanne had signed it, because we had been told that our proposals would be taken into account, but that was not the case. We got rolled in flour ». Thus, there were no exceptions to the shelter » poultry, the fact of bringing poultry reared in the open air into buildings. Confinement was requested from breeders in mid-October. Yet the flu hit harder than ever. Confinement is ineffective, we don’t want to hear about it anymore »reacts Sylvie Colas. Except in certain areas at particular risk. »

The fear is that of a race for increasingly strict biosecurity measures, requiring new investments from breeders. Respecting these measures is more complicated for small outdoor producers. With these crises, the industry is pushing to impose new biosecurity rules »denounces Christophe Mesplède. They want to eliminate the know-how of open-air farms. The State should arbitrate and grant derogations to small producers. »

The state should give exemptions to small producers »

The Confédération paysanne accuses the industrial practices of large farms in buildings of being responsible for the crisis. In duck breeding, these are specialized. Some raise the ducklings, others bring them to adulthood, and finally a third link does the force-feeding. They are also integrated into cooperatives that deliver feed, send teams to catch ducks for transport, and have to change the straw twice a day in their large buildings. All these movements must comply with biosecurity standards. Nothing has been put in place to make them more reliable »denounces Sylvie Colas. When you think that in the midst of the crisis, contaminated hatcheries continued to send ducklings to unscathed areas… We want to make money at all costs at the risk of seeing everything collapse. »

At the entrance to an intensive farm in the Landes. © Alain Pitton / Reporterre

Scientists from ANSES (national health security agency) have not yet taken stock of this crisis. Barbara Dufour, the president of the group of experts responsible for regularly considering avian influenza, begins the beginnings of personal observation. She recalls that the introduction of the virus goes through contact between wild and domestic birds. Free-range farms increase the risk of introduction », she says. The whole challenge then is to limit the outbreak to a single farm, to prevent it from spreading to others. There, the context is different depending on the type of breeding. If there are a lot of free-range farms nearby, the virus can spread step by step. But if farms are self-sufficient [les canards y sont élevés du stade canetons jusqu’à l’abattage] and remote, the outdoors is not the most important risk factor. »

For rearing in buildings and in the long chain, there are many comings and goings that pose significant risks », she points out. All it takes is a badly disinfected pair of boots that has been walked on in a contaminated environment to bring the virus back. And it is all the more likely to encounter a contaminated environment that the number of animals is greater in a limited space – therefore in particular in a building – and that there is therefore more virus produced ». The ventilation spreads the virus all around the building. This is how the Vendée was affected despite recent and standard breeding. The confinement was done, but the biosecurity around the infected farms was probably not sufficient given the importance of the contamination. »adds the professor.

We have to deconcentrate, there are too many farms and too many birds in each farm »

One crucial criterion, however, is common to all types of farms. There is a very high risk when there is a high density of farms and animals per farm in the same area. My point of view is therefore that we must deconcentrate » — therefore reduce the number of farms but also the number of animals per square meter.

This is a point that the foie gras sector has started to work on. In the Landes, seventy municipalities with high livestock density have been identified: it is expected that during the critical period, around December 15 to January 15, breeders organize themselves so that there are far fewer poultry in the zone. Should there be fewer farms and fewer ducks in France ? The subject is sensitive to the Ministry of Agriculture, which specifies that this be sustainable for France. »

We also want there to be work on the distances traveled by the animalsadds Julien Mora, of the Movement for the Defense of Family Farmers (Modef) in the Landes. We go looking for ducks in the depths of Cantal to bring them to Aveyron or Gers. We are asking for zoning so that supplies are made locally. »

Another hope lies in the vaccine, which now seems to have consensus. The experiments have been launched and the Ministry of Agriculture has promised the first results for end of 2022 at the latest ».

In the meantime, concern is already rising for next season. The international bird flu alert system makes it possible to assess in advance the level of risk for the coming season. This summer, we will be quiet, then we will see in August where the virus is in northern Europe »explains Barbara Dufour.

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