Are French finding foie gras hard to swallow?

Is France’s love affair with foie gras finally starting to turn sour? The contentious delicacy has long been a mainstay of French culinary culture, but a recent poll suggests many French are actually turned off the gourmet product because of the way it is made.

Are French finding foie gras hard to swallow?
Are the French finding foie gras too hard to swallow? Photo: Kent Wang/Flickr

California might have banned its production and it may also be outlawed in Israel, but foie gras is still pretty much revered in France.

Or so we thought. 

A poll published on Tuesday, however, suggests that actually, foie gras is not universally scoffed down in every French household .

And it's not the fact that the gourmet goose liver is laden with calories that is turning the health-conscious French off it, but the highly controversial process by which it is made.

Foie gras is mostly made by force-feeding ducks and geese to fatten up their livers in a process known as "gavage", which those against it say is tantamount to torture.

This has given foie gras a bad name abroad, but its popularity in France has rarely been in doubt.

But according to a new poll, almost one third of French people (29 percent) now refuse to buy foie gras for “ethical reasons linked to animal suffering”.

The Opinion Way poll commissioned by the French animal rights association L214, also suggests the French are fairly evenly split on whether the production of foie gras through force-feeding should be banned, with 44 percent in favour and 55 percent against prohibition.

There is clearly, however, still a hard core of Gallic foie gras-lovers out there, with 22 percent of respondents saying they prefer foie gras that has been produced by force-feeding the animals.

France’s Rural Code states that foie gras must be made by force-feeding, but French producers – aware that public opinion, at least abroad, is hardening against the delicacy – have been looking at alternative methods of production.

In November, French celebrity chef Joël Robuchon ditched his foie gras supplier after animal rights activists raised questions about its practices.

And in October, animal rights organizations heralded a victory when online retailer Amazon banned the sale of foie gras on its UK website.

Campaign group Viva! said the move followed pressure by the organization, which earlier this year presented the US-based online retailer with "evidence of the abject suffering" caused by foie gras production.

A petition against the sale of the delicacy was also signed by more than 10,000 Amazon customers and Viva! supporters.

The decision was, however, slammed by the French government.

"I regret Amazon's decision," Guillaume Garot, France's minister for agribusiness, told AFP.

"I once again want to point out the efforts made by French producers over the years to maintain real product quality while respecting the animal's well-being," he said.

Garot said he was nevertheless "very confident" about the future of the foie gras industry, which employs nearly 100,000 people directly and indirectly in France.

"I defend this sector because of jobs but also because of a certain idea of gastronomic heritage," Garot added.

However, if more and more French people find foie gras hard to swallow, this "gastronomic heritage" may one day prove to be a thing of past.

What do you think? Will the French ever fall out of love with foie gras?

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Ban ‘barbaric’ French foie gras, Danish politicians urge EU

Danish left-wing party SF (Socialist People’s Party) wants a debate on whether it should be legal to produce and sell French delicacy foie gras in the EU.

Ban 'barbaric' French foie gras, Danish politicians urge EU
File photo: Benoit Tessier / Reuters / Ritzau Scanpix

The party, a parliamentary ally of the governing Social Democrats, wants foie gras banned in the European Union and has called its production “barbaric”.

“It is one of the most barbaric ways food can be produced. These birds are treated very badly, and we don’t think it’s okay,” SF spokesperson on food Carl Valentin said.

“Danes have actually already morally rejected this to a large extent. Consumption is falling fast [in Denmark, ed.] and production is already illegal in Denmark. That’s why we’re focusing on this issue,” Valentin continued.

Discussion of the matter by politicians follows a decision by management at Torvehallerne, an upscale food market in Copenhagen, to recommend its concession holders not to sell the French dish, a paté made from the livers of geese or ducks.

Torvehallerne made the decision after customers posted complaints on its Facebook page over the sale of foie gras at Ma Poule, a stand at the market which sells French specialities.

Although production of the delicacy is banned in Denmark, importing it is not, as such a ban is prevented by European Single Market laws.

Foie gras production involves overfeeding geese and duck for the last two weeks before they are slaughtered. This causes them to develop fatty liver disease, with the organ expanding to six to ten times its normal size, according to Danish animal welfare charity Dyrenes Beskyttelse.

90 percent of foie gras now comes from geese, rather than duck, which was previously the preferred bird, according to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA). Although the majority of production is in France, the foodstuff is also made in Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain and Hungary.

EU rules do forbid foie gras from being produced in places where it has not previously been made, according to the DVFA website.

Valentin said he wanted the union to outlaw what he termed a “dish for the upper classes”.

“The reason I mention the upper class is that this is very much a dish for the upper classes. I think it’s sad that there’s so little focus on animal welfare and more thought goes to pleasing taste buds than protecting animals,” the SF spokesperson said.

READ ALSO: Why Danish milk cartons now carry three helpful words