Bird flu: 33 cases confirmed in the Gers department, the concern of farmers is growing

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The flu is taking hold in the Gers. With 33 outbreaks confirmed, farmers affected or spared are wondering about the future as concern mounts. This is the case of Béatrice and Mathieu who own a small farm in the south of the department in Cabas-Loumassès.

With 33 outbreaks of bird flu in the Gers department, the situation has become more than worrying. Professionals in the sector are confronted with an unprecedented phenomenon that raises fears of a real catastrophe, both from a health, economic and psychological point of view.

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Béatrice and Mathieu are farmers in the south of the Gers, in Cabas-Loumassès. Although the area remains, for the time being, free of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), farmers are still concerned. Having settled for several years in an autarkic farm with poultry farms on a human scale, the couple owns just over two thousand chickens, laying hens and guinea fowls, which are essentially raised outdoors.

Since April 26, the level of epizootic risk defined by article 3 of the decree of March 16, 2016 has been described as “moderate” throughout metropolitan France. A situation that obliges the state services to adopt some preventive measures such as depopulation around the houses concerned.

“We are at 7 years of bird flu. It’s the first time I’ve heard of bird flu cases lasting a year,” confides Mathieu. For the two farmers one thing is certain: “the excessive concentration of farms is one of the explanations. »

Consequences for everyone

If the farm is not affected, bird flu spreads at an exponential rate. And those who are currently spared or outside the surveillance zone are not out of danger. “Last year we had a huge impact. We had one case detected 10km away as the crow flies. The city found itself in a guarded area,” says Mathieu.

An event that forced the operation to shut down the poultry plant for two months. A significant deficit for the couple. “What we don’t do, we never achieve, for several months we were barely paid. Being dependent on administrative permissions to carry out our business is not easy. »

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This without counting the psychological impact that this extraordinary crisis causes among farmers. “Morally it’s complicated, I questioned myself a lot about the importance of continuing,” says Béatrice. Today, this new wave that is breaking west of the Gers raises fears of the tightening of the restrictions already in place on farms. And this, despite the measures already taken by the livestock sector, well before the appearance of this new crisis.

“We are self-sufficient, we avoid moving between farms, we have no employees, we sell directly. The risks of diffusion are, so to speak, limited to the maximum.

The issue of the outdoors under discussion

The fear of a systematic measure of confinement for animals weighs on these livestock professionals at a time when confinement continues to divide within the profession (see our May 16, 2023 issue). “The outdoors is the very essence of our profession, an animal has nothing to do indoors and currently this is the biggest problem,” explains Béatrice.

So, of course, the latter remains aware of the risk of contamination in free-range farms. “There is no data showing the direct impact of free-range poultry on the spread of the virus. If the industrial model goes against the ethics defended here, Béatrice and Mathieu point the finger at the stigmatization of small open-air farms.

“I do not accept that we blame the different production systems or the confinement and above all not the farmers”, comments for her part the president of the FDSEA in the Gers. The Confédération paysanne, for its part, focuses on rational dialogue, indicating: “There is a global problem. We have to ask ourselves the question: “Which farm do we want for tomorrow, for which feed, under which production conditions? »

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