Alpes-Maritimes MP Loïc Dombreval has presented a bill to France’s Assemblée nationale, calling for foie gras labels to be given to ‘natural’ producers as well as those who practice mechanical force-feeding.
The Code rural states that: “Foie gras is understood as being the liver of a duck or goose which is specially fattened up by force-feeding,” meaning that producers who allow their geese and ducks to fatten naturally cannot access the designation.
Instead, they must name their products ‘mousse de foie’ or similar.
Mr Dombreval (La République en Marche !), who is also a vet, has said that “the law makes obligatory a practice which consists in voluntarily making an animal ill,” adding that the Code should be adapted to read “with or without force-feeding.”
“Nowadays there are a small number of producers who know how to produce foie gras without mechanical force-feeding, but who cannot sell their products under the foie gras title,” he said. “Therefore, consumers are obviously less likely to automatically buy their products.”
Mr Dombreval added that, rather than aiming to change the legislation surrounding foie gras, his bill is “aimed at attracting attention” and encouraging the public to think about the products they consume. “In the current climate, it seems impossible to me that it would be made law,” he added.
It is not certain that the bill, even if it were made law, would serve to make naturally produced foie gras more attractive for customers.
Birds which fatten of their own accord take six to eight weeks to do so, while mechanical force-feeding only takes two, so the eventual foie gras of natural producers costs more.
A bird which is left to fatten on its own normally has a liver weighing 250g, while French regulations require a minimum weight of 400g.
Some farmers are also against the idea. Noël Artaud, who has been farming ducks for 45 years in the commune of Lunas (Dordogne) told France Bleu that “the animal must be force-fed morning and evening with a certain quantity every day,” so that its liver can grow in the right way.
Dordogne’s La République en Marche ! MP Michel Delpon has also said that he will not support the bill, stating that it “only really concerns geese who can fatten themselves up. Ducks are different and the market mainly revolves around ducks.
“The bill will need to be reworked to see how we can settle this divisive issue,” he added.
Several mairies including those of Strasbourg and Lyon have already banned foie gras from their official events, ceremonies and buffets on cruelty grounds.
Producers have been attempting since the early 2000s to find viable alternatives to mechanical force-feeding, and in 2006 Spanish farmer Eduardo Sousa presented his ‘ethical’ foie gras, created by encouraging geese’s natural instinct to gain weight before migration.
However, Mr Sousa’s product was very expensive, coming in at €175 for 125g.
Rémy Burcelin, a researcher from Toulouse, later created a “bacterial combination” which could be given to young birds and which would “naturally colonise the intestine” and encourage the goose to overeat.
Mr Burcelin and his team set up a start-up called Aviwell which was capable of producing foie gras of up to 350g. However, these also came at a high price: €800 per kilo.