France at war over controversial national delicacy – Mayors slammed for ‘contemptuous’ act

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Mayors in Lyon, Strasbourg, Villeurbanne and Grenoble have taken the product made from duck or goose liver off the menu at official events. But critics slated the move as being bad for breeders based in the country’s south west region.

The decision has reignited a debate between animal rights activists and those defending what they consider to be a gem of French gastronomy.

Those working in the industry say they are offended by the position taken which they argue will not impact their business, but proves how out of touch the mayors are with consumers.

Animal rights organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), welcomed the bans as more good news for geese and ducks that are force-fed to fatten their liver, which makes up the main ingredient of the pâté-like delicacy.

French news website 20 Minutes reports that while Lyon views how foie gras is produced as against animal welfare, producers have been left “choking”.

Lyon’s restaurateurs have been urged by the municipality to follow its lead.

Breeder Benjamin Constant, President of the Association for the Promotion of Foie Gras and Poultry Farming, told 20 Minutes: “It’s both hurtful and contemptuous and based on a biased approach, which is all the more regrettable for a city like Lyon, renowned for its gastronomy.

“When you get to the stage of a ban, it’s quite worrying.”

Marie-Pierre Pé, director of the Comité Interprofessionnel des Palmipèdes à Foie Gras (CIFOG), added: “We feel especially offended that mayors are attacking a jewel of French gastronomy that contributes to the attractiveness of our regions.”

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She recognised a boycott of the dish at a few municipal receptions would not put the industry in jeopardy, but expressed surprise and accused the mayors of using the ban for political gain ahead of election campaigning.

Eric Dumas, President of CIFOG whose members are producers and processors, pointed to evidence that 75 percent of French people plan to eat foie gras at New Year celebrations compared to 73 percent last year.

The industry has also sought to allay concerns expressed by some consumers over a possible shortage of the foodstuff after an outbreak of avian flu led to thousands of birds being slaughtered.

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France is the largest producer of foie gras with the industry centred on Périgord, Aquitaine and Alsace, according to Niall Edworthy, the author of The Curious Bird Lover’s Handbook.

Ms Pé said: “Our animals have a long life span – three months – and an outdoor run.

“Feeding is done for 10 days – at the end of the rearing period, twice a day, respecting the animal’s digestive cycle.

“In 30 years, the sector has evolved. We were trying to obtain the largest possible amount of foie gras. Now the standard is 450g to 550g and sometimes you wonder if the ducks are fattened or not.”

Mr Constant insisted: “We spend 24 hours a day with our animals and we come out with a natural product.”

In a bid to persuade the mayors to reverse their decisions, CIFOG has invited them to visit foie gras farms with producers arguing that, ultimately, customers will decide.

With additional reporting by Maria Ortega.

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