French prepare to tuck into festive foie gras (from Bulgaria)

While the controversial delicacy foie gras will be on the menu in many French households this Christmas, there's a big chance the traditional Gallic grub will have come from eastern Europe.

French prepare to tuck into festive foie gras (from Bulgaria)

France is the top producer and consumer of the controversial delicacy. Foie gras is fundamental to a traditional Gallic Christmas dinner and France has made a habit of stocking up its own inventories with cheaper versions from Bulgaria and Hungary.

At Bulgaria's largest factory near the southern village of Milevo, dozens of women nimbly sort, clean, devein, and pack hundreds of kilos of duck livers that have come straight from the slaughterhouse.

Other workers cook and can glazed duck confit.

Virtually unknown at local Christmas dinner tables, the bulk of Volex's production will go to France.

The labels of big French brands are placed directly on the jars before they even leave the factories, although the country of origin is also indicated.

This year, Bulgaria and Hungary estimate that sales in newer markets could shoot up by around 15 percent as French exports outside the EU have been hit by repeated bird flu scares.

“If 10 years ago we sold 100 percent of our produce to France, now this share is about 80 percent,” Volex factory owner Plamen Chelebiev told AFP.

For the past four years, his sales have been increasing in Switzerland and Japan, and more recently also in Vietnam and Thailand.

“In these markets we sell our products under our own brand names and at much higher prices, which makes it more interesting for us,” Chelebiev said.

But Volex is also doing well inside the EU.

In Spain and Belgium, “we're now selling our products without passing via France,” Chelebiev added.

Bulgaria and Hungary entered the lucrative trade in the 1990s by modernising large cooperative farms from communist times and using cheap hand labour.

Since then, Bulgaria has become the world's largest maker of duck foie gras after France, while Hungary holds a quasi monopoly on fattened goose liver.

Even French producers have expressed concern over the growing competition.

“A part of Bulgaria and Hungarian products are going to third countries whose markets remain closed to us,” Marie-Pierre Pe, the director of French foie gras makers' group CIFOG, said earlier this year.

“The quality of our raw foie gras is the same as in France and even better, due to the good conditions during the raising of the birds,” according to Volex.

But all this notwithstanding, neither Bulgaria nor Hungary have the capacity to conquer traditional French markets.

Although the bird flu crisis has slashed 25 percent of France's exports in 2016, the country has massive stocks due to overproduction in previous years.

In 2015, France produced around 19,000 tonnes of foie gras, while Bulgaria came a distant second with 2,500 tonnes and Hungary third with 2,000 tonnes.

France's exports stood at 5,000 tonnes in 2015. By comparison, Bulgaria and Hungary together sell  between 3,000 and 4,000 tonnes abroad annually, according to data from producers' organisations.

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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.

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