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French farmers suffer bird flu woes

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French poultry farmers are starting to feel the pinch as the effects of the bird flu crisis hit home. Holland, Hong Kong and Japan have all banned French poultry imports after a turkey farm in Ain department was decimated by the virus last week - despite its flock being kept indoors.

Domestic sales are suffering too as alarmed Gauls shy away from coq-au-vin. France's biggest annual agricultural show at the weekend was without live birds for the first time. President Jacques Chirac turned up and attempted to garner public support for the poultry industry by "pulling a Gummer" - he tucked into a portion of Ain chicken, saying: "Unfortunately you can see a completely unjustified sort of total panic developing."

At the same show on Saturday, EU trade commissioner Peter Mandleson urged France's trading partners not to overreact: "Whilst I understand their decision to take precautionary measures, any action must be proportionate."

The pandemic itself has continued its irresistable conquering of the continent. Switzerland for once has failed to stay out of trouble, confirming H5N1 yesterday in a wild duck found in the heart of Geneva. The Russian agricultural ministry reported the disease has now spread to six regions on Sunday, and today Georgia announced its first case in wild swans.

No human illness from the deadly virus has been reported in the European nations that have confrimed avian cases. It seems until the long-feared mutation allowing human to human transmission materialises, very close contact with infected birds is needed. Such is common agricultrual practice in Turkey and rural South East Asia, which have reported most of the 93 confirmed deaths.

Fortress Britannia as yet remains impervious to bird flu's advance. ®

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