Friday, February 24, 2006

Bird Flu, In the Land of Coq au Vin

Reaction in France to a wild duck found dead to avian flu - from the N. Y. Times.

For the French, a bird is more than a bird.

Yves de la Fouchardiere, a lobbyist for the Loué poultry farmers, is campaigning to keep the region's chickens uncaged despite the bird flu scare.

The rooster has been the national emblem since ancient Gallic times and adorns official seals, church steeples, the garden gate of Élysée Palace, even the uniforms of the national soccer team.

In the early 17th century, King Henry IV declared the right of his subjects to have a chicken in the family pot once a week, and even today, the ritual family lunch on Sunday is defined by a perfectly roasted chicken.

"Poultry is for cuisine what canvas is for painters," wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the French 19th-century gastronome. "We are served it boiled, roasted, fried, hot or cold, whole or in parts, with or without sauce, deboned, skinned, stuffed and always with equal success."

So when a wild duck was found dead, infected with the avian flu virus, in a small lake in eastern France last week, it set off a national panic, a potential health and economic calamity and an identity crisis as well. The fears were stoked again on Thursday with reports of a second infected duck in the same area — the department of Ain — and, even more ominously, the possible spread of the virus to turkeys on a nearby farm.

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