PARIS, Jan 4 (Reuters) - France on Wednesday ordered a massive cull of ducks in three regions most affected by a severe episode of bird flu, as it tries to contain the virus which has been spreading quickly over the past month, the agriculture ministry said.
All free range ducks, as well as geese, will be slaughtered between Jan. 5 and approximatively Jan. 20 in an area in southwestern France comprising parts of the Gers, Landes and Hautes-Pyrenees administrative departments, it said in a statement.
Some farms will be exempted, however, including those which confine birds and those that perform full production cycles, from ducklings to transformation into end-products.
Southwestern France, home to most producers of foie gras made of duck and geese liver, had already been the centre of a severe episode of bird flu last year, although outbreaks involved other strains.
Several European countries and Israel have found cases of the contagious H5N8 strain over the past two months and some have ordered poultry flocks be kept indoors to prevent the disease spreading. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide)