France faces its worst bird flu crisis in history and has killed over 11 million birds. The H5N1 virus hit all countries in the European Union except Malta and Cyprus. By the end of March, bird flu outbreaks have almost ended in all countries, except for France, according to data from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
After a first wave led to the killing of around four million birds in the southwestern part of the country, the virus spread rapidly in the Pays de la Loire region and Brittany; the two regions are France’s largest bird product producers.
More than 11 million birds have been killed in France since the first outbreak on November 26, OIE data showed, making it the most severe bird flu crisis ever in the country. There have been 1098 outbreaks of bird flu since November.
Last week Tuesday, France authorized farmers to kill their chickens, turkeys, ducks and other birds by suffocation to stop the spread of bird flu. The minister said that when bird flu is detected, farmers are allowed to stop ventilation, so their animals suffocate.
Farm unions and animal welfare organizations called the practice cruel and unacceptable. “Everyone is moved by these animals who are in any case destined for the slaughterhouse, and which are the victims of these intensive farms,” Muriel Arnal, president of French animal welfare organization One Voice, told The Animal Reader.
“Letting these ducks suffocate on these farms is pure cruelty. It is only in France that the public still tolerates this, and only in France that the authorities allow such acts of cruelty to take place, which should absolutely be outlawed and punished in the courts,” Muriel said.
“It is insane to subject sentient beings to this. It is extremely serious. These animals will suffocate to death, while we are in the 21st century,” she added.
Intensive farming and bird flu
Industrial animal factories are the reason bird flu has become deadlier and spreading faster, environmental organizations ad experts said.
“There [industrial animal farms], the conditions are ideal for the proliferation of these viruses,” Greenpeace said. “Large farms are a source of infection for these birds.”
Dutch virologist Thijs Kuiken also said that the highly pathogenic, sickening form of bird flu (H5N1) emerged due to intensive bird farming: “Normally, wild birds only carry the low-pathogenic variant. In intensive poultry farming, this mild flu mutated into a serious variant.”
“We have to realize that the intensive way of raising animals, with a huge number of animals huddled together in one spot, is no longer sustainable for many reasons,” Kuiken added.
The Animal Reader is a small independent animal news platform based in the Netherlands. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.