French foie gras producers unworried by bird flu outbreak


PARIS | Despite a new outbreak of bird flu in France, foie gras producers are confident sales will remain stable during the festive season.

Earlier this week, the French agriculture ministry raised the risk level of the H5N8 virus spreading after several cases were discovered across France.

Marie-Pierre Pe, the general secretary of the French foie gras producers federation, said the previous bird flu outbreak last December resulted in a drop of 25 percent in the production after about 300,000 ducks were destroyed. But she is confident the current outbreak will have moderate impact.

“We believe the outbreak will be well-contained,” Pe told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “There have been only eight zones affected so far, and consequences should not be huge. In any case, there will be zero impact on Christmas sales.”

A typical French delicacy, foie gras — made of fattened duck or goose liver — is a traditional Christmas treat. With about 20,000 tons a year of uncooked foie gras, France is the world leader in the production.

The industry has, however, been hit this year after several countries including Japan banned imports because ofconcerns related to bird flu. France had been expecting to recover its bird-flu-free status at the start of December, but the new outbreak will further delay for at least three months the return of French foie gras to Japanese tables.

According to the French Agriculture Ministry, such bans can’t be justified for medical reasons as the virus does not transmit via food and is harmless to humans.

A top official at the ministry, Sophie Palin, said guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health make no restriction whatsoever in regards to cooked foie gras exportats during bird flu outbreaks.

“As long as the products have been thermally prepared, there are no restrictions, but countries are free to implement containment measures as they wish,” Palin told the AP.