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France Reports First Case of Bird Flu in Domestic Birds


French President Jacques Chirac sought to allay fears of bird flu Saturday, after Europe's first case of the H5N1 strain among domestic birds was discovered in France. The country's farmers are worried about the economic impact of the virus.

Speaking on the opening day of the Salon of Agriculture in Paris, President Chirac said there was absolutely no danger of consuming either chickens or eggs. He described as totally unjustified the panic slowly spreading among French consumers.

Mr. Chirac spoke just hours after laboratory results found the H5N1 strain at a French turkey farm in the east of the country. Two dead wild ducks previously tested positive for the virus in France.

France is Europe's largest poultry producer and exporter, and farmers raising chickens and other fowl are worried they will be hard hit by a drop in consumption and exports. Already Japan has suspended imports of all French poultry products including foie gras, even before the results showed the French turkeys had tested positive for the H5N1 virus.

Christiane Lambert, vice president of France's FNSEA agricultural union, says she was not surprised by Japan' decision.

Lambert told French radio that Japan already warned it would suspend its imports if France vaccinated its chickens against bird flu, which it is doing. But she said she feared Japan will start looking elsewhere for its foie gras. She worries the U.S. will follow suit.

French poultry producers are scrambling to limit the damage. Some are launching promotional campaigns to encourage French consumers to buy poultry, and to assure them that consuming fowl is safe.

Although France is the first European country where the virus has been found among domestic fowl, H5N1 has been detected in wild birds across the continent. The European Union says the region must learn to adapt to the disease, but that will take some time.

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