PARIS (Reuters) - France, Europe's largest poultry producer, imposed additional precautions at farms and restricted hunting and bird gathering on Thursday after a severe strain of bird flu virus was found in several neighboring countries in the past few weeks.
No case of H5N8 avian influenza, more commonly called bird flu, has been found in France so far but the virus was found in eight European countries, including Switzerland and Germany, mainly in wild birds but also at farms.
"Since recent cases in our European neighbors mainly affect migratory birds, the ministry has raised the level of risk in wetlands that concentrate wildlife and can be stops on the route of migrating birds," the farm ministry said in a statement.
Poultry farmers located in these "high risk" zones will have to keep poultry flocks indoors or apply safety nets preventing contact with wild birds, it said.
This plan is similar to one set up in March this year when a bird flu crisis forced the ministry to ban all duck and goose production in 17 administrative departments in southwestern France, a major foie gras producing region.
Poultry farmers who may not use confinement or safety nets because they are bound by animal welfare or quality requirements can ask to be exempted if they can prove sufficient biosecurity measures.
France also imposed restrictions for hunters, notably of wild feathered game, in high risk areas. The bird hunting season is in full swing in France.
The world animal health body said more outbreaks of bird flu were likely in the coming weeks in Europe as wild birds believed to transmit the virus migrate southward.
France has the largest poultry flock in the European Union but Poland's poultry meat output has risen above France's in 2014 and 2015, EU data showed.
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)