Foie gras, a quintessential French delicacy, stands threatened by the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Recognizing its cultural and economic significance, France has embarked on an ambitious mission: vaccinating a staggering 64 million ducks. Over the past three years, HPAI has wreaked havoc on the French poultry sector, necessitating the culling of approximately 30 million birds. The ensuing impact led to farmers reducing bird density on their premises, resulting in a significant 35% drop in foie gras production just last year. The need for a large-scale, preventive measure became evident.
Addressing the challenge, particularly for farms housing more than 250 ducks, entails a meticulous vaccination regimen. The protocol, as outlined by France’s foie gras federation, requires ducklings to receive their initial vaccine dose ten days post-hatching, followed by a booster eight days later. “This endeavor not only safeguards our birds but also our cultural heritage,” asserts federation director Marie Pierre Pé.
Although the vaccination campaign comes with a $102 million price tag, the French government has committed to shouldering 85% of the expenses. To put this into perspective, this cost is less than a tenth of what was disbursed to farmers during the 2021 and 2022 bird culls. France’s move is unparalleled within the European Union, pioneering a preventive approach against HPAI. However, it hasn’t been without international repercussions.
The US Agriculture Department, in response, decided to limit poultry imports from Europe last September. The USDA’s decision is rooted in a key concern: vaccinated birds might not exhibit HPAI symptoms, posing a risk of inadvertently exporting infected live animals or contaminated products to the US. While the vaccination campaign prioritizes the protection of a national delicacy, it also underscores the broader challenges of global food safety and intercontinental trade dynamics.