Foie gras, a favourite for the festive season
Strictly monitored in the European Union, the production of foie gras is extensive, outdoor and often a matter of family business. For the European Federation of Foie Gras, the best way to encourage consumers and restaurateurs to have the delicacy on their menu is to guarantee a high quality product and animal well-fare.
In the last few years, foie gras has been subject to various polemics regarding the well-being of animals and the production methods. However, the product remains for many a favourite, especially during the festive season.
Foie gras, a tradition at year-end tables
According to France AgriMer, the agency in charge of promoting French food production, French consumption of foie gras – the highest in the world- reached approximately 170g of foie gras per capita in 2021. 80% of the purchases by French households were concentrated during the Christmas and New Year season, between November and January. For 2023, 75% of French consumers indicate in polls that foie gras remains a favourite during the festive season, ahead of smoked salmon (67 %) and the Christmas yule log (61 %).
In another study from the CIFOG (France Interprofessional Comitee of Foie Gras), 91% of French consumers indicated they eat it regularly (source: CIFOG / CSA survey, December 2020).
According to the European Federation of Foie Gras, some 11,507 tonnes were produced in the European Union in 2022 (10,953 tonnes of duck foie gras and 554 tonnes of goose foie gras). The sector generates over 50,000 direct jobs in the EU.
The EU produces approximately 80% of the world’s foie gras. The four main producing countries are France (74%) followed by Bulgaria (13.2%), Hungary (11.3%) and Spain (2.4%). Outside the European Union, other producing countries include China, the United States and Canada. During SIAL in 2022, many companies were representing French foie gras, including Feyel and Artzner, Delices de Saint Orens, La Quercynoise, Ernest Soulard and Pebeyre.
France dominates world markets
In Europe, this delicacy used to be a specialty of Jewish communities living in Central Europe using the goose fat to cook their meat. Over the centuries, foie gras production extended along the Danube River and in Alsace in Eastern France. As ducks and goose are fed with corn, farms were progressively deployed in areas where the cultivation of this cereal was easy to develop such as France Southwest.
In France, foie gras is recognised as being part of the Protected Cultural and Gastronomic Heritage. Producers’ know-how has been passed down and improved from generation to generation. Today, it remains a mostly family-run business with 30,000 families making a living from its production. Foie gras making helps maintain activities in rural areas and contributes to safeguarding France’s agricultural, cultural and tourist heritage. 5 main regions produce foie gras in France: Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie, Brittany, Pays de la Loire and Alsace.
While foie gras was originally produced only in Alsace, the south-west of France (Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie) had 72% of breeding capacity in 2021 while Brittany and Pays de la Loire had a share of 26%.
France’s south-west has a protected geographical indication (PGI) for “Canard à foie gras du Sud-Ouest”, which guarantees the origin and quality of the products. According to CIFOG, 77 countries around the world import French foie gras.
In Hungary, goose liver has obtained the distinction “Hungaricum”: a unique product to which Hungarians attach great importance. An estimated 30,000 Hungarian farmers live from goose-farming. Bulgaria records some 100 companies producing the delicacy.
The well-being of animals
To guarantee the quality of EU produced foie gras as well as the well-being of animals, the European Federation follows legal requirements set up by European authorities.
Duck livers must weigh at least 300g net while goose livers must weigh at least 400g net to ensure a prestigious and high value product as well as avoiding fraudulent practices. The minimum weights of duck and goose livers currently set by the European marketing standards are essential to obtain fatty livers and therefore a tasty product.
Animal welfare is a prerequisite. European producers of foie gras are subject to the EU Directive 98/58/EC concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes.
Euro Foie Gras published also in 2011 a charter that governs the farming activity in the spirit of 12 principles retained in the “Welfare Quality Project”.
- Animals should not suffer from prolonged hunger, i.e. they should have a sufficient and appropriate diet.
- Animals should not suffer from prolonged thirst, i.e. they should have a sufficient and accessible water supply.
- Animals should have comfort around resting.
- Animals should have thermal comfort, i.e. they should neither be too hot nor too cold.
- Animals should have enough space to be able to move around freely.
- Animals should be free of physical injuries.
- Animals should be free of disease, i.e. farmers should maintain high standards of hygiene and care.
- Animals should not suffer pain induced by inappropriate management, handling, slaughter, or surgical procedures.
- Animals should be able to express normal, non-harmful, social behaviours.
- Animals should be able to express species-specific behaviours.
- Animals should be handled well in all situations, i.e. handlers should promote good human-animal relationships.
- Negative emotions such as fear, distress, frustration or apathy should be avoided while positive emotions, such as security or satisfaction, should be promoted.
This charter has been signed by the representatives of all the foie gras producing countries in the European Union. In addition, producers undertake to provide housing comfort and optimal hygiene to animals. In the EU, ducks and geese live 90% of their life outside.