France warned of Christmas foie gras shortage

Kim Willsher in Paris
People buy foie gras in a market in Samatan, south-western France. Photograph: Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images

Christmas would not be Noël in France without a fat goose liver on the festive table.

But farmers say stocks of foie gras – enjoyed over the festive period by an estimated 80% of France’s population – have been seriously hit by avian flu for the second year in a row.

Outbreaks of the highly contagious H5N8 virus forced many farmers to destroy entire flocks of geese and ducks earlier this year.

France has developed an increasing taste for the controversial delicacy over the last 15 years, say producers, and sales are worth about €2bn (£1.8bn) a year,.

However, 800,000 to a million birds have been culled this year after 95 outbreaks of disease in traditional foie-gras-producing areas in south-west France.

Animal rights campaigners have also fought to make customers aware of what they say is the cruelty of production methods, including the force-feeding of birds until their liver swells to many times its natural size.

Last year, 4,836 tonnes of foie gras was sold in supermarkets compared with 5,336 tonnes in 2015.

Marie-Pierre Pé of the foie gras producers’ association CIFOG told La Dépêche newspaper there was “significantly less” foie gras on the market this year. And she warned stocks would not be boosted by imports from Hungary or Bulgaria as 50% of their bird farms had also been affected by avian flu.

However, she reassured French customers there would be enough to go around, even if it was more expensive.

“Just don’t leave buying it to the last moment,” Pé said.

In a productive year, France makes about 20,000 tonnes of foie gras, 97% of it from ducks and the rest from geese, representing 75% of the world’s production and giving direct and indirect employment to aabout 100,000 people.

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