Bird Flu Could Cause a Foie Gras Shortage in France

The H5N1 virus has been found on 69 farms in the Dordogne area—which produces 80 percent of France’s foie gras—so far. Overall, France produces 75 percent of the world’s foie gras.

Jan 25 2016, 4:00pm

Photo via Flickr user tavallai

If you're already anti-foie gras, this may feel like case of just desserts, but for the millions of French who serve up foie around Christmastime, it is beginning to look as if Père Fouettard has struck early this year. Due to an outbreak of a highly virulent strain of H5N1 bird flu, French tables could be without foie gras this Christmas.

Bird flu appeared at a chicken farm in Dordogne in France's southwest in November, which prompted veterinary officials to intervene, The Local reports. Agriculture officials are quarantining poultry farms and limiting production to stop the spread of the virus, which could occur if infected ducks are bought and sold for the final fattening stage of foie gras production and slaughter. Farmers can continue to raise their flocks, but will not be allowed to take on new birds until they have thoroughly cleaned and disinfected their farms. In the future, farmers will have to separate birds by age.

The virus has been found on 69 farms in the area—which is home to 80 percent of France's foie gras production—so far. France produces 75 percent of the world's foie gras.

"In the most optimistic scenario... a third of this region's (usual) output will not be produced," the head of a foie gras producers group told Agence-France Presse Wednesday.

Farmers aren't happy about the restrictions, and 500 duck farmers turned out to protest in Mont-de-Marsan for easing of restrictions. One of the biggest producers, Duprat, is predicting there will be a production shortage of 30 to 50 percent depending on the area. There's still enough foie around for Easter, but it's unclear whether there will be enough for Christmas and New Year.

WATCH: The Politics of Food - The Foie Gras Controversy

As it would happen, Pamela Anderson, a longtime PETA ally and an anti-foie activist, petitioned French lawmakers to ban foie production on Tuesday.

"Foie gras is not a healthy product and does not have a place in a civilized society," she said. "These ducks did not have a single day of happiness in their short lives."

Anderson said she was following in the footsteps of the French actress, singer and model Brigitte Bardot. Recently, legislation against the product was introduced by a French lawmaker who cites that 70 percent of people in a recent poll opposed foie gras production. The number seems a bit high given the prevalence of the dish in France, which is culturally embedded and a must-have on holiday tables. The lawmaker, Laurence Abeille, admits there is no chance her bill will pass, and instead hopes to start a conversation about the ethics of foie gras.

If you're interested in catching up on the debate surrounding the unctuous delicacy—a good bit of which deals with forced feeding by a technique known as gavage—MUNCHIES' short documentary from last year dives right in.

For now, though, French foie lovers are looking to a holiday season without a traditional French classic. However, if the French have to wait a year to get their hands on foie, they'll probably be alright. It's not as if they don't havea million other uniquely French and insane delicacies to choose from.