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"Ethical" foie gras in demand

The French are not happy about the international success of "ethical" foie gras.

by: AFP | 18 Dec 2007

Eduardo Sousa cannot cope with the worldwide demand this Christmas holiday season for his "ethical" foie gras, produced without force-feeding the geese – a success he puts down to a French outcry over his methods.

When he won an award at a Paris food salon last year, French producers protested, arguing that "foie gras" must come from the traditional "gavage" or force-feeding method. The publicity that generated led to massive orders this year.

"From England, the demand we have is quite astonishing, from restaurants, from anyone who wants something natural," he said at his sprawling farm in the rolling hills of western Spain's Extremadura region north of Seville.

He also has orders from the United States and Japan, and has even had interest from France.

In France, which produces around three-quarters of the world's foie gras, ducks and geese are fed grain through a pipe forced down their throats while they are restrained.

Animal rights groups have condemned the practice as cruel, and it is banned by law in several European countries. But Sousa's geese roam freely around his 22-hectare (54-acre) farm where they feed mostly on acorns and grass, but also figs, lupins and olives at different times of the year.

The birds' livers swell naturally as they fatten themselves up for what would be a migratory winter flight south to Africa. When their bellies begin scraping the ground, they are ready for slaughter, which is done by first gassing them to sleep, in a process overseen by veterinarians.

However, French producers remain unconvinced. "This foie gras is a product that doesn't exist for our industry," said Marcel Saint-Cricq, head of France's Foie Gras Association of the Southwest. "It is a marketing operation that is not based on reality."

He also rejected the charges of animal rights activists.

"Several studies have shown there is no particular stress for the geese and ducks." Sousa thinks the two products "can exist perfectly side by side." He recommends a system of labelling within the European Union "so consumers can choose whether they want a natural, ethical foie gras or one made through force-feeding."


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