The level of risk linked to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), commonly known as bird flu, has been raised to “high” throughout metropolitan France by a decree published Thursday in the Official Journal.

“In a context marked by an unprecedented persistence of the virus in the environment and a strong migratory activity of wild birds, it is essential to strengthen preventive measures to avoid contamination of poultry farms”, justifies the Ministry of Agriculture in a press release.

This level of risk imposes the “sheltering of all poultry”, recalls the ministry.

It specifies that recalcitrant breeders will not be able to claim full compensation from the State in the event of stamping-out.

The major poultry production regions – Brittany, Pays de la Loire, as well as the Deux-Sèvres department – had already had to be confined since mid-October, to the great displeasure of the Confédération paysanne union, which fears “the death of full breeding air”.

Poultry will only have been allowed to taste the outdoors for a few months this year.

“Confining, we have seen that it does not work, it does not protect against the virus. It is a measure that is useless”, reacted to AFP Lionel Candelon, breeder in the Gers and president of the Angry Ducks association.

Forty-nine outbreaks have been identified on farms, according to the count for the 2022-2023 season started on August 1.

In the space of three months, more than 770,000 ducks, chickens or laying hens have been slaughtered, AFP learned from the ministry.

This toll has more than doubled since the previous report communicated to AFP on October 12, which reported the slaughter of more than 330,000 animals.

The virus started to hit French farms again at the end of July, exceptionally early after a catastrophic 2021-2022 season.

Between autumn 2021 and spring 2022, more than 20 million poultry were slaughtered on infected farms or as a preventive measure to stop the spread of the virus.

This episode, unprecedented in its magnitude, has upset the poultry industry. The large farming lands of Pays de la Loire and Brittany, spared during previous crises linked to the virus, have been particularly affected.

“The breeders are traumatized, some stop producing so as not to relive the spring” last, remarked this week to AFP the president of the Vendée chamber of agriculture, Joël Limouzin.

The situation “gives chills” declared Wednesday to the press the president of the egg interprofession (CNPO) Yves-Marie Beaudet, alerting to the threats to national egg production.

Initially reluctant to vaccinate against HPAI, poultry professionals are now eagerly waiting for vaccines to be authorised. An experiment is underway in Europe.

For Mr. Limouzin, this is the only way to deal with a virus that has become “endemic”, with which it will be necessary to cohabit. Otherwise, “how to continue” to produce if millions of animals must be euthanized each year, wonders the vice-president of the majority union FNSEA.

“You have to vaccinate, also defends Lionel Candelon from the Gers. It’s the only solution we haven’t tried. (…) If it doesn’t work, at least we will have tried. The risk is let’s slaughter 15 million poultry.”

Even before the resumption of the epizootic this summer, the bill for avian flu amounted to more than a billion euros for the French State to compensate the losses of professionals.

Repeated confinements force mentions of free-range farming to be suspended in the specifications of reputable productions, such as duck foie gras from the South-West or eggs from Loué.

The virus is present in 17 other European countries, according to the French platform for epidemiological surveillance in animal health (ESA). Domestic birds and poultry must be confined across England since November 7.