- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

PINSAC, France — In the courtyard of her farm, Marie Annick Andral is sorting dandelions. With spring just around the corner, she has decided to eat dandelion salads for a few days to feel less tired.

Just minutes before, she was force-feeding the 200 ducks she is raising on her farm to make “foie gras” — liver pate — as she does twice a day, seven days a week. Around her, several hens are walking on the grass. These are not for commercial use, though — they are for Mrs. Andral’s family.

The Andral farm is in Pinsac, a little village of no more than 750 inhabitants about 100 miles north of Toulouse. Geographically speaking, Pinsac is far from the county of Ain, where the first bird carrying the H5N1 virus in France was discovered just over five weeks ago. According to regulations adopted in mid-February, however, every single farm bird in France must be kept indoors to prevent the spread of bird flu.

By leaving her hens outside, Mrs. Andral clearly breaks the law, but she contends that such measures are not justified and contribute to “the bird-flu psychosis.”

“People are exaggerating the situation too much,” she said. “I would rather kill my hens than put them inside.”

So far, the security measures that Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin adopted have not affected her foie gras production. “Until the end of March, my ducks are in the force-feeding period, which means that they stay inside,” she said.

Then she will have one month off from caring for fowl. In May, however, she will obtain 200 geese that she will raise outside until September, the beginning of a new force-feeding period.

“I guess that this summer, a lot of tourists will ask me questions about bird flu, and I still don’t know what I’m going to answer,” she said.

Catherine Marty, one of Mrs. Andral’s neighbors in Pinsac, can’t imagine preventing her hens and roosters from staying in the huge garden of her house.

“All of this is ridiculous,” said Mrs. Marty. “To be provocative, I eat more chicken than before the bird-flu crisis,” she added, defiantly.

Like almost everybody else in Pinsac, Mrs. Marty and Mrs. Andral do not fear bird flu. Instead, they fear the fines that could be imposed on them if they are caught red-handed.

“I heard that somebody in the Limousin area had to pay 750 euros because she let her chickens outside,” said Mrs. Andral. “I don’t think policemen would come here, in such a small village, and charge us,” her neighbor said, optimistically.

For Mrs. Andral’s foie gras business, if the confinement measures continue, they will bring disaster. “I’m among the few farmers of the area to make foie gras traditionally,” she explained.

Out of respect for the foie gras production methods of her parents, from whom she and her husband took over the farm in 1973, Mrs. Andral raises goslings and ducklings in a nearby field for about three months before the monthlong force-feeding begins.

“If I cannot raise my ducks and geese outside, then my methods of production will no longer exist,” said Mrs. Andral. She still has about two months before she has to worry about the bird-flu restrictions. The year-end holidays, when she makes about 65 percent of her annual sales, are over, and it’s too early for the tourists to arrive.

However, bird flu is spreading in France. Three weeks ago, an infected bird was discovered in the county of Bouches-du-Rhne. Forty countries already have imposed restrictions on imports of French fowl and byproducts.

“I hope all of this will not last too long,” Mrs. Andral said as she made her way back to her ducks for the second force-feeding of the day.

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