Hungary facing foie gras challenge

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

With Hungary's entry into the EU in May, producers of one of the
country's main food specialities will face a particular challenge.
Moves by the Union to phase out the force feeding of geese over the
next 15 years are likely to have a major impact on the Hungarian
foie gras industry.

According to a comment article from analysts Datamonitor​, the EU has not ruled definitively that force feeding will be made illegal, but legislators in Brussels have nonetheless called on farmers to find alternative methods.

While farmers have been given 15 years to do this, the implication is still that any producers not using more humane methods at the end of that time would face the prospect of being banned - a move which would almost certainly be met with fierce opposition from farmers in Hungary, to say nothing of consumers in France, the biggest market for the delicacy.

So high is French demand for the gourmet product that domestic producers are unable to meet demand - even though France is already the biggest producer of foie gras in the world - leading to a growing reliance on imports.

Hungary's foie gras business has developed rapidly as a result of this French deficit, Datamonitor said, and the country is now the world's biggest exporter of the delicacy with 1,800 tonnes sold abroad each year, mostly to France, although Japan and Belgium are also significant destinations. In total production terms, Hungary is second only to France.

Geese destined for foie gras production are force-fed maize over 18 days following an initial 12-week period during which they are given exercises to expand their stomachs and neck muscles. Once exported, the Hungarian foie gras are seasoned, cooked and packaged and sold as local products, according to Datamonitor.

But with consumers across Europe increasingly concerned about animal welfare, and in particular about food production practices in the wake of BSE and other food scares, time is almost certainly running out for traditional foie gras producers, including the 30,000 or so Hungarian geese farmers dependent on this industry.

In some countries, including Poland, Denmark, Germany and Norway, such practices are already prohibited, and the likelihood is that an EU-wide ban is inevitable, Datamonitor suggests.

What the French reaction would be to such a move is relatively easy to imagine. Foie gras is a hugely important part of the country's gastronomic heritage, and axeing it from menus would cause an outrage.

But the very nature of the product itself also makes it hard for alternative production methods to be found which are more humane - after all, without a means of ensuring that the goose livers are hugely swollen, there is no foie gras - and producers in both France and Hungary are already likely to be preparing for a battle with Brussels over the issue.

Related topics: Market Trends

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