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France Places Temporary Ban on Foie Gras Production

Bird flu is ravaging the industry in southwestern France

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

France's foie gras exports are facing a serious slump this year due to the spread of the H5N1 avian flu strain and the situation is only getting worse. Conde Nast Traveler reports that the country is halting the production fattened duck and goose liver through August in southwestern France as part of an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

France produces an estimated 75 percent of the world's foie gras

France produces an estimated 75 percent of the world's foie gras and southwestern France produces approximately 70 percent of that total. The country exported approximately 5,000 tons of fatty liver in 2014. The industry has been facing issues with bird flu since last fall when the H5N1 strain was detected at a chicken farm in Dordogne. This led Japan and China to place a ban on French poultry exports and France to initiate sterilization protocols. The H5N1 strain is a highly contagious strain and deadly to birds. While the virus does not infect humans easily, people working in close contact with poultry can catch the flu. When spread to humans it's fatal in about 60 percent of cases, based on data from the World Health Organization.

France's producers are facing a costly year due to the outbreak. According to The Local, breeders will receive 130 million euros in government compensation but producers are expected to layoff thousands of workers and may be required to pay an estimated 220 million euros in biosecurity costs. "This interruption to our business will cause cash flow problems, additional wage costs linked to the temporary unemployment of around 4,000 workers, and fixed costs that will have to be paid despite us not having any income," says Marie Pierre Pe, a spokesperson for the French foie gras industry organization Cifog, in an interview with Le Figaro. Reduced supplies are also likely to increase costs for consumers of the luxury ingredient, which can retail for upwards of $65 a pound.

The practice of producing foie gras by "gavage" or force-feeding ducks and geese has been condemned by animal rights activists and lead to bans in several countries, including the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Israel. São Paulo city officials voted to ban foie gras last summer. Meanwhile, the fatty liver remains a contested item on menus in the United States.

Video: The Enduring Legacy of Foie Gras