SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria is providing 9.7 million levs ($5.3 million) to poultry farmers to help contain a bird flu virus outbreak and protect its position as the world's second biggest producer of duck foie gras, the government said on Wednesday.
The highly pathogenic virus has spread to 60 poultry farms since mid-December, prompting veterinary authorities to cull over 450,000 birds, agriculture ministry data showed.
Outbreaks were reported mainly in duck-fattening farms in the southern region of Plovdiv where some 380,000 ducks had to be culled in a serious blow to output of fattened duck liver in the European Union's poorest member state.
"We are giving about 10 million levs mainly to the farmers whose ducks, geese, chickens and birds had to be culled," Prime Minister Boiko Borisov told ministers at a cabinet meeting.
"We have taken all measures to limit the negative impact from the infection, and there are no new outbreaks in the past three days. Let's hope we are successful, because Bulgaria is the second biggest exporter of foie gras in Europe," he said.
Still, the bird flu outbreak is likely to reduce production of foie gras in Bulgaria by 25 percent to 2,000 tonnes from last year's 2,700 tonnes, poultry association chief Dimitar Belorechkov said. "We expect affected farms will be able to restart operations in April," he told Reuters.
Bulgaria has become the world's largest duck foie gras producer after France in recent years. Hungary is second behind the French in output of fattened goose liver, Belorechkov
All the three main foie gras producers have been affected by bird flu outbreaks.
($1 = 1.8309 leva)
Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Mark Heinrich