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France pledges bird flu aid for poultry industry

By Chris Mercer , 03-Mar-2006

The French government has pledged emergency aid for poultry producers in the country affected by the increasing spread of bird flu.

Dominique Bussereau, French agriculture minister, said proposals for an aid package had been handed to the European Commission, after being agreed with poultry industry representatives this week. The Commission is expected to respond early next week.

Bussereau said the French government had set aside an initial, emergency payment of around €63m to help the industry cope with bird flu and compensate for lost production.

 

He added he understood the "very real and serious distress" among poultry producers and processors, and that the government had worked hard to re-assure the public that poultry was safe to eat.

 

Other have criticised the government for not offering support to the industry fast enough.

 

Ségolène Royal, president of regional council of Poitou-Charentes, said at a trade show in Paris it was "scandalous" that promised aid from the government had not yet arrived in the affected areas.

 

Bird flu strain H5N1 has, meanwhile, strengthened its foothold in the country.

 

France's food safety agency AFSSA confirmed Thursday afternoon it had found 11 new cases in wild birds in the Ain Department. That brings the total number of cases in Ain to 29. The government has enlarged its surveillance zone in the area.

 

More than 40 countries around the world have banned French poultry imports, including Thailand and South Korea close to where the bird flu H5N1 strain first emerged. The US has only banned poultry imports from the Ain region so far.

 

France confirmed bird flu had hit a domestic turkey farm last week.

 

France's poultry industry association said there was no justification for banning French poultry imports, while trade minister Christine Lagarde said at a trade show this week that bans already imposed were an emotional response to the bird flu problem.

 

The problem is particularly serious for France as Europe's largest poultry producer, and the third largest in the world, with exports worth around €983m per year.

 

Bird flu continued to spread through Europe, with Switzerland the latest to confirm its first case. The disease spread to at least 17 new countries in February alone, according to the World Health Organisation.

 

The emergence of the disease on a global scale is expected to cause a "steady erosion" of gains in poultry consumption and prices in many countries this year, warned the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation this week.

 

It said consumer fears have already begun to push down prices, despite statements that poultry is safe to eat if handled and cooked properly; re-iterated in recent days by French authorities, the World Health Organisation and the FAO.