Some 60 million ducks are to be vaccinated in France over the next year as the country embarks on a campaign to combat bird flu and put an end to mass culls, which cost the poultry industry millions every year.
In Europe's only mass-vaccination campaign against avian influenza, the two-jab course is obligatory for ducklings, from as young as 10 days old, on farms raising more than 250 birds.
The first shots were administered on a farm in the Landes region of southwestern France on Monday morning, observed by French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau, whose department is financing 85% of the €96m total cost of the campaign.
This vaccination plan... is a world first: its goal is to protect all farmed birds and should put an end to the preventive slaughter of animals, which no one wants to live with anymore, duck and fois gras production group CIFOG said in a statement.
Jocelyn Marguerie, poultry chief at the SNGTV farm vets' association, agreed, saying: Vaccination should mean we only face individual cases, avoiding the tidal waves sweeping through farms.
Although there are currently no disease hotspots in France, the country has endured regular bird flu outbreaks since 2020 after suffering a particularly bad wave between 2015 and 2017.
Discovery of a case generally results in a cull for the entire farm population and those of others nearby, bringing obvious disruption to production and taking a significant financial toll.
There are also fears that the virus could mutate and become transmissible to humans, prompting further pandemics.
I've been caught up in four culls since 2016, said Thierry Dezes, who raises ducks in the Landes region and plans to jab some 5,000 ducklings. I hope we'll get back to being unscathed. [The vaccination] has to work!
France's first 80 million doses will come from German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, meaning the government will have to invite tenders for more supply.
But not everyone is in favor, with another famer in Landes telling French news agency AFP – anonymously to protect her business – that she had had clients calling to tell me they don't want meat from vaccinated ducks.
And internationally, the French poultry industry could be facing a trade backlash.
With vaccinated birds not always showing signs of prior infection, the United States triggered restrictions on imports of French poultry beginning October 1, citing a risk of introducing the virus into the country.
A senior official at Japan'ss Agriculture Ministry also said that Tokyo would suspend imports of French poultry products after the vaccination campaign had started.