In the face of avian influenza: A vaccination bringing hope 

On Monday, October 2, 2023, under the auspices of the French Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, an unprecedented vaccination campaign against avian influenza was launched. While similar initiatives had taken place outside the European Union (EU), it was a first for an EU member state, especially with such a stringent surveillance plan as proposed by France. 

As part of the campaign, no less than 64 million French ducks (raised for meat and foie gras production) will undergo the vaccination process between October 2023 and the summer of 2024. It is worth noting that France is the world’s leading producer of foie gras and the first European genetic reservoir. 

Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) now affect all continents with increased frequency and less clear seasonality. Faced with this growing recurrence affecting the entire European poultry sector, this vaccination plan complements existing biosecurity measures in France. Mandatory for waterfowl farms with 250 animals or more, preventive vaccination aims to protect animals and provide more certainty and peace of mind to farmers who have felt helpless against an epizootic that is often elusive despite reinforced biosecurity measures. Vaccination will notably help avoid preventive culling in regulated areas because vaccinated animals are no longer virus shedders and thus fade from the transmission chain. 

This vaccination became possible thanks to the adoption in February 2023 of the European delegated regulation on avian influenza. Euro Foie Gras had advocated for the adoption of this text, responding notably to the public consultation. In its response, the sector had emphasized that “vaccination represents an essential complementary tool for the prevention and control of HPAI, in addition to biosecurity measures that remain and will remain the cornerstone of the fight against this epizootic.” 

Finally, exports constitute a real challenge. Some countries, like Japan, have already announced the closure of their market to vaccinated products. However, let’s hope that ongoing discussions will reassure trading partners. 

After years during which the sector has been severely affected by avian influenza, Marie-Pierre Pé, Director of the French Foie Gras Interbranch Organisation (Cifog), considers that “this vaccination plan represents a glimmer of hope for {the} professionals.”