Safe to eat, says Chirac

Almost 50 countries worldwide have closed their borders to French poultry exports following a confirmed HN51 outbreak at a turkey farm at Versailleux, in the Bourg-en-Bresse region on 23 February.

A 15,000-bird indoor turkey unit in the Calais region is also under investigation, although a feed problem is believed to be a more likely explanation for the deaths of a number of young birds.

French president Jacques Chirac insisted that it was safe to eat poultry products when he opened the Salon International de l’Agriculture (SIA) in Paris last weekend.

French poultry sales have been tumbling and increasing quantities have been directed at the UK wholesale market.

The French government has also added €52m (£36m) of aid to the €11m (£7.6m) it announced earlier in February.

Of this, €20m (£14m) will go to affected poultry farmers, €30m (£21m) to companies in the poultry sector and the remaining €2m (£1.4m) will pay for a promotional campaign at a later date.

“France is perfectly capable of facing this kind of bird flu,” President Chirac later told exhibitors on the farmers’ federation FNSEA stand.

France is the world’s fourth largest poultry exporter after the USA, Brazil and Thailand.

It earned €21.2bn (£828m) in exports last year, exporting 715,000 tonnes of its 2m tonne annual production to other EU states and third countries in equal measure.