France's foie gras producers are accustomed to challenges from animal welfare activists, but the industry was hit with a two-pronged assault this week from Pamela Anderson and bird flu. The ambassador for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and former Baywatch star, drew a rowdy press scrum on Tuesday at France's National Assembly, where she called on the government to ban gavage; the practice that ostensibly force-feeds ducks and geese to produce some 22,000 tons of foie gras a year.
2016's foie gras output will fall by a third, and maybe even by half
A proposal to ban gavage has also been made by France’s Green party. "As a Canadian, I am ashamed by the brutal clubbing of baby seals and thus I have empathy for many of the French citizens who also experience both shame and sadness at the misery suffered by these very sociable birds," Anderson told reporters, in a nod to French actress Brigitte Bardot's well-publicized crusade to end Canada's commercial seal harvest.
Anderson's ad hoc press conference could not have come at a worse time for France's foie gras producers, most notably in the southwestern part of the country, where concerns over a bird flu epidemic have ravaged the sector. Last November, the H5N1 avian influenza strain was discovered at a chicken farm in Dordogne.
This led Japan and China to ban French poultry imports. The virus has since been detected on dozens of farms in southwestern France, the epicenter of foie gras. The region has since halted production altogether, and initiated sterilization protocols, at an estimated cost of 350 million euros ($382 million). Industry representatives told French media outlet Le Progrès this week that under the most optimistic forecasts, 2016's foie gras output will fall by a third, and maybe even by half.
Foie gras is controversial not just in the country that produces 75 percent of it, of course. Last summer São Paulo city officials voted to ban foie gras. And then there's the United States, where the foie gras fight has been long and litigious.
Video: The Enduring Legacy of Foie Gras