In the last few weeks, Éric Coutant’s three buildings, which normally house 100,000 turkeys, chickens and ducks, have stood completely empty. After being disinfected for the first time, they will be thoroughly cleaned again by the end of the month. “ All we want is to gradually resume our activity, “ testifies the breeder, the Vice-President of the FDSEA (Departmental Federation of Farmers’ Unions) in Vendée and of the Chamber of Agriculture in this department, which is severely affected by the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAI). Of the 1,374 outbreaks of contamination identified in poultry farms in France, more than 850 concern the Vendée and its neighboring departments.
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The Great West is paying a high price for this crisis, with 11 million birds slaughtered (out of 16 million in all of France). According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the peak of the epizootic has now passed and the majority of French departments have just shifted to moderate risk zones. Only 19 branches in the Grand Ouest are kept at a high level of risk and must continue their vigilance. The vise must come loose from 1eh June with the return to breeding by sector of ducklings and chickens, which are already underway in Landes.
Over the past six years, it has been mainly small farms in the South-West – where many poultry grow in the open – that have been confronted with a virus that travels in the air, but also on the wheels of trucks or under shoe soles. This time it spread like wildfire in the closed and disinfected buildings of the Vendée. ” This year the migratory corridor of the wild birds has changed, and as they moved up from Africa towards Northern Europe, the wind pushed them into the country, explains Éric Coutant, who is based in Les Herbiers. From then on, the virus jumped from farm to farm at an impressive rate, like a game of dominoes… ”(1). Faced with the emergency, the strategy was to depopulate farms (slaughter of contaminated animals, but also preventive slaughter to limit the spread of the epidemic) and shelter of free-range poultry.
Éric Coutant, who discovered the arrival of the virus when his chickens were 25 days old, took on this heavy task. “We put the animals in the dark and interrupted the ventilationhe says. It went very fast. But it is not neutral. Our job is to fight every day to breed healthy animals … ”. Like other colleagues and after validation by the authorities, he was also forced to bury the dead animals on a plot of land on his farm because he was unable to use the traditional destruction process. “When you stand with 1,000 tons of animals to cope with a capacity of 200 tons a day, you can do nothing else”.
Psychological and financial consequences
Both psychologically and financially, this epizootic will leave its mark. “It is a disaster worthy of the mad cow crisis for our regionsays Pascal Sachot, spokesman for the Confédération paysanne in the Vendée. Some breeders will not recover because they want more debt in the bank than the value of their breeding … “ This very dynamic Vendée sector, which employs many people both upstream and downstream – producers, slaughterhouses, the food industry with groups such as Arrivé, LDC and Ernest Soulard – had prompted the installation of many young farmers. “These are the ones who need to be supported as a priority because they have a lot of responsibilitiescomments Éric Coutant. The profession has taken a big hit for morale and some would like to throw in the towel because they are not ready to relive it. You need to give us a horizon line to continue the job. »
→ HISTORY. Chantal Marsan, the day “I slaughtered my duck farm”
To support breeders, the state and the affected local authorities have deployed a battery of financial support, advances or deferral of fees. The Ministry of Agriculture has set up two aid districts. The first of a health nature to finance slaughter and compensate for the value of lost animals (32 million have already been paid to 800 breeders) and the second of financial losses whose payments will be spread between 2022 and 2023.
Which farms tomorrow?
It is also time to reflect on the future of the sector, and not everyone has the same opinion. Several outdoor breeders, a minority in the Vendée, united in the collective “Sauve qui poule” (close to the Confédération paysanne), intend to defend a less intensive production system and less rigid handling of the virus. Based in Foussais-Payré (Vendée), Benoît Aubineau condemns preventive slaughter “useless” and deplores the containment measures for chickens raised outdoors. “These drastic measures taken from Paris are not adapted to our production methodshe assures, remembering he had no sick animal. The more we take our animals out, the fewer problems we have. Birds are created to live outside … ”.
He, who breeds 4,000 poultry a year for an average of four to five months, defends agriculture on a human scale. “When a breeder produces 300,000 chickens a year, he can not benefit from the same monitoring and treatment of the disease», he assures.
Frédéric Loquais, who works in direct sales on a farm in Port-Saint-Père (Loire-Atlantique), was also not affected by the virus. “Where is the logic when slaughtering healthy poultry to protect a sector?” he wonders.
Review the location of farms?
“This episode was extremely tough, but we now have to reflect on the establishment of farms, warns Lydie Bernard, vice president of the Pays de la Loire region in charge of agriculture. If the virus hits all types of farms arbitrarily, the question of their concentration is in the same place.» Especially as this region gathers most hatcheries, these strategic breeding grounds that supply ducklings and chickens to farms all over France. It is for this reason that restarting activity at the national level will take time, especially for duck.
Faced with the risk of new waves of bird flu, the Ministry of Agriculture specifies that professionals in the sector are already working on new health measures, on the transport of animals and the organization of production. The experiment with a vaccine on ducks, the first propagators of the disease, also raises a lot of hope. “As with other human or animal diseases, a lot of vaccination is expected,” recognizes Éric Coutant, who is busy bringing his livestock buildings back to life.
Take risks for people
A dozen type A influenza viruses, birds or pigs, is capable of infecting humans at present, but human-to-human transmission is rare and limited to close contacts. None of these viruses are capable of engaging in sustained human-to-human transmission.
Transmission to humans occurs by inhalation of contaminated dust or aerosols, or by contact when handling infected birds. Exposure on farms or in live poultry markets is the greatest risk of infection. The risk of contamination through the consumption of meat, eggs, foie gras is taken into account as zero or insignificant.
To date, no cases of human influenza due to a bird flu virus has been declared in France.
Source: Public Health France