PARIS - The French government on Tuesday ordered the slaughter of 360,000 ducks in a bird flu-hit southwest region at the forefront of the foie gras industry.
The cull will effectively wipe out production of foie gras in the Landes area that accounts for a quarter of the total French production of the controversial delicacy made from the livers of force-fed ducks and geese.
"We are going to have to move quickly in the slaughter of the ducks so that we can stabilise the whole area," Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said.
Le Foll said the cull would happen "in the 15 coming days". The minister had earlier given a figure of 600,000 but no reason was given why the figure was downsized.
He said the 240,000 estimated remaining ducks "would be used for foie gras production".
France is scrambling to stop the spread of the highly pathogenic H5N8 virus sweeping across Europe. There is no deadly risk to humans.
The virus was first spotted in wild geese in November and has spread rapidly through duck farms across the southwest.
"Authorities are facing a virus that spreads at speeds never seen before and with extremely short incubation periods," Le Foll said.
Duck farmers have accused the government of being slow to respond at the start of the outbreak, helping it spread and increasing the number of birds now being slaughtered.
The French foie gras industry believes the cull will cost producers 270 million euros ($284 million).
The government has promised the farmers will be compensated, but some have complained of being underpaid following a similar outbreak in 2015 that set the industry back an estimated half a billion euros.
Since October, the strain has been detected in at least 13 European countries, according to the French government -- including Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Hungary and Sweden.
In South Korea, over 10 million farm chickens and ducks have been slaughtered this winter as that country battles its worst bird flu outbreak since 2014.
In Japan, a million farm birds have been culled.