The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Major avian influenza outbreak hits French game farms

A serious outbreak of avian influenza has hit duck producers in the West of France with potentially serious effects for the UK’s shooting season.

The possibility of disruption to the supply of birds from farms was highlighted last week by Shooting Times. The west of France and particularly the departments of Vendée and Loire Atlantique are crucial to the supply of chicks and eggs to the UK game production industry. An outbreak began with a series of cases in commercial duck production premises in the area earlier this month and has rapidly spread. In response the French government has introduced a series of strict measures intended to control the outbreak and protect the French poultry industry.

These include mass culls of birds and strict controls on the movement of adult birds, chicks and eggs. Two of France’s largest game bird producers, Gibovendee and L’envol-de-retz, are located in the heart of the control and surveillance zones which have been imposed. Gibovendee has a major production centre in the north eastern part of Vendee and L’envol-de-retz is based in the southern part of Loire Atlantique. Both producers are major suppliers to the UK market and both are currently severely restricted in their ability to ship chicks or eggs. A number of other smaller producers are also caught up by the restrictions.

Disruption to partridge rather than pheasant shooting is considered the more likely scenario because game farms are currently focused on producing partridge eggs and because a higher percentage of partridges are produced in France. The extent of the disruption is difficult to estimate, due to the rapidly evolving nature of the outbreak and uncertainty over the potential licensing system, with industry insiders saying it could be anywhere between nominal and very severe.

Hopes are now focused on arrangements being agreed between British and French authorities to allow imports to go ahead and on the outbreak being brought under control by a combination of control measures and warming weather. In a statement, the National Gamekeepers Organisation said: “The situation is understandably causing some concern among the shooting community.

“However the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation is optimistic that pheasants, in particular, will be available for the coming season, and that there is no need to panic.”

Dominic Boulton of the Game Farmers Association told Shooting Times: “The GFA is actively monitoring the situation in France and will continue to engage with UK and French authorities, suppliers and GFA members as we seek a resolution to the problems posed by this outbreak.”