France is to extend mass culling of poultry as it faces a "race against time" to contain a bird flu virus sweeping through a duck-breeding area in the southwest, agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said on Friday.
France is among the European countries to have reported highly contagious strains of bird flu since late last year, raising fears in the poultry industry of a repeat of the crisis of 2016-17 when tens of millions of birds were slaughtered.
Faced with mounting cases of the H5N8 bird flu strain on duck farms in the Landes region, France has slaughtered flocks in affected zones to try to halt transmission of the disease.
"We need to move faster," Denormandie told local radio station France Bleu Gascogne.
"Nearly 400,000 ducks have been slaughtered in the Landes (...) There will be several hundred thousand more, without doubt," he said, adding abattoirs would be requisitioned.
Bird Flu Outbreak
The authorities have confirmed 119 outbreaks of H5N8 bird flu in the Landes, compared with 48 as of 1 January, the agriculture ministry said.
France's southwest is known for breeding ducks to supply the foie gras industry.
Culling will be extended to a five-kilometre zone around the location of any outbreak, compared with 3 kilometres previously, the ministry said.
While deadly for birds, the H5N8 virus is not known to be transmitted to humans and does not make eating poultry products a risk.
Bird flu outbreaks trigger trade restrictions. China this week confirmed a suspension of French poultry imports, although France is pushing for Beijing to limit restrictions to regions where outbreaks have occurred.
French farmers will be compensated for culled poultry, the agriculture ministry said.