France to lift bird flu restriction zone on Thursday

News Hour:

France will lift a restriction zone on Thursday it imposed late last year in the country’s southwest to stop the spread of a bird flu virus that prompted trade restrictions on French poultry products, it said on Wednesday.

France, the European Union’s largest agricultural producer, imposed stricter controls and then banned all duck and goose production in 17 administrative departments, to contain a highly pathogenic bird flu outbreak that spread throughout southwestern France.

The region is the main producer of foie gras, made of duck and goose liver. Foie gras makers had estimated that freezing output for several months would have a major impact on the industry, pegged at 270 million euros ($304 million).

“This is an important step in managing this unprecedented health episode in Europe,” France’s agriculture ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it had received clearance from the European authorities on Tuesday.

By Sept. 1, France had recorded 81 outbreaks of highly pathogenic bird flu in 10 departments, most of it before the full halt in output which took place between April 18 and May 16, farm ministry data showed.

Avian flu cannot be transmitted to humans through food. Some viruses have infected humans, but official tests showed that the strains found in France posed no risk of being caught by humans.

More than a dozen countries including Japan – the world’s largest importer of foie gras – have imposed restrictions on French poultry products, live animals or hatching eggs after the bird flu outbreaks.

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