The French government on Tuesday (Feb 21) ordered the slaughter of the last 600,000 ducks in a bird flu-hit southwest region at the forefront of the foie gras industry.

The cull will effectively wipe out production of foie gras in the Landes area that accounts for a quarter of the total French production of the controversial delicacy made from the livers of force-fed ducks and geese.

"We are going to have to move quickly in the slaughter of the ducks so that we can stabilize the whole area," Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said.

France is scrambling to stop the spread of the highly pathogenic H5N8 virus sweeping across Europe. The virus was first spotted in wild geese in November and has spread rapidly through duck farms across the southwest. French authorities began culling of hundreds of thousands of ducks in January.

"Authorities are facing a virus that spreads at speeds never seen before and with extremely short incubation periods," Le Foll said.

Duck farmers have accused the government of being slow to respond at the start of the outbreak, helping it spread and increasing the number of birds now being slaughtered.

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The French foie gras industry believes the cull will cost producers 270 million euros (S$404 million). The government has promised the farmers will be compensated, but some have complained of being underpaid following a similar outbreak in 2015 that set the industry back an estimated half a billion euros.

Since October, the strain has been detected in at least 13 European countries, according to the French government – including Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Hungary and Sweden.

In South Korea, over 10 million farm chickens and ducks have been slaughtered this winter as that country battles its worst bird flu outbreak since 2014. In Japan, a million farm birds have been culled.

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