Outdoor poultry farming harmed by repeated confinements

“Since this morning, I’ve been outlawed”: breeders can’t stand having to confine their birds because of avian flu, thinking they are “deceiving” consumers who prefer the mention “outdoors” on labels.

Sylvie Colas utters these words without boasting, with an air of disbelief: “Since this morning (Friday) I have been an outlaw. I am a delinquent in creation.”

This organic breeder of the Gers, spokesperson for the local Peasant Confederation, refuses to lock up her hens, layers, guinea fowl and Christmas capons.

However, as of this Friday, all commercial farms in mainland France must confine their birds, as in the Netherlands since last week.

In question, the multiplication of cases of avian influenza (commonly called avian influenza) in the French borders, among migratory birds that run the risk of introducing this virus in the farms. Three backyards have already been affected in eastern France.

The objective is to avoid a repeat of last winter’s scenario: avian flu wreaked havoc in the Southwest, leading to the culling of more than 3.5 million birds, mainly ducks.

But for Jean-Paul Gobin, organic creator of Deux-Sèvres, “it is inconceivable to create birds in buildings”.

He, who raises organic chickens, guinea fowl, ducks and capons with his son, believes that this also implies a “masterful and scandalous mistake by the consumer, who is in no way informed of this measure”.

Since the measure is imposed by the state, product labels do not have to be modified, so they can legally continue to display “outdoors”.

The French poultry sector fears that the virus will reach professional farming, which would cause France to lose its virus-free status and block export exits.

“I have nothing to do with exporting chickens, it’s not my problem,” continues Sylvie Colas, who believes that her birds cannot “change their habits” unless they become aggressive with each other. .

Currently, authorities allow birds over ten weeks old to be left outdoors in a small space.

“It’s a playground, it’s ridiculous”, indignant the creator, for whom the authorities and the sector “have gone too far” in the restrictions – “they are radicalizing us”.

– “It annoys me” –

“We cannot fail to respect the law. Because we are putting our neighbors, an entire sector in danger”, reproaches Bernard Tauzia, president of the Agricultural Birds Union (Synalaf).

“Our breeding method is not questioned, it is exaggerated”, adds the poultry farmer from Landes, the department most affected last year by the epidemic.

The president of Les Fermiers de Loué – which represents about 20% of the national production of Label Rouge and organic poultry – questions whether refractories “are not playing against their field”.

As long as the older animals can get out a little, “we can do a good job with it, everyone must be very responsible,” insists Yves de la Fouchardière.

He also highlights that, even without access to the outside, this breeding method remains more virtuous than the standard, with “breeding times three times longer, twice as many birds in the building”.

Still, the creators are showing dismay.

Farms located in the highest risk areas had already been confined since September 10.

In a nine-minute video posted to YouTube, Lucie Mainard spoke of her “absolute sadness” at having to confine her chickens who were only allowed to come out three months out of the year.

“It harms me, it gives me zero morale to have chickens that are not left out”, he lamented, from a vast expanse of land, completely empty.

“Locking up our birds means being based on our values, even if we fully understand the situation”, the Vendée breeder tells AFP, who wonders about the lack of technical, financial, but also psychological support of breeders in the face of decisions enacted “to the collective good”.

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