Faced with the spread of the H5N8 virus (bird flu), France has decided to conduct widespread slaughter of 600,000 ducks across a key foie gras-producing region.

Southwestern France has been unable to contain the spread of the virus, despite a previous cull in January. The agricultural ministry has now called for the killing of the remaining ducks, most of which are in the Landes and Pyrennees-Atlantiques regions.

Speaking on the issue on France Bleu radio on 21 February, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said that the flu was spreading at a pace faster than previously estimated. He said that the farmed ducks in the Landes region would be killed.

France is the world's biggest producer of foi gras, with Landes alone accounting for 25% of the production.

The bird flu epidemic re-emerged in various parts of Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa over the past three months. France and Hungary have been severely hit by the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The disease does not spread to humans.

According to Reuters, Foie gras producers estimate that over 3.2m birds have died from the virus or have been culled. They expect these numbers to rise to 3.4m as the government continues its measures to contain the flu.

The French government launched a massive culling in January, but later announced that it would scale back the slaughter following indications that the spread of the virus was under control. However, the disease continued to spread across more farms.

According to France 24, about 249 outbreaks have been detected as of 15 February.