Despite the efforts of the animal welfare lobby, the production of foie gras in Europe is unlikely to end any time soon. But corks may be on their way outby Alex Renton / November 19, 2006 / Leave a comment
The end of foie gras?
These are dark times for foie gras eaters in the US. In August, Chicago banned the sale of products resulting from the forced feeding of geese or ducks. Legislation to halt the production of foie gras, if not the eating of it, is at various stages in seven states, including California, New Jersey and New York.
This has caused anguish. Anthony Bourdain, the chef and author, said a ban in New York would be “a bomb” on the restaurant scene. “Foie gras is a primary colour in the flavour spectrum that we use in the kitchen,” he complained. “To ask chefs to cook without that is to ask a painter to not use the colour blue.” Two Chicago restaurants have already had their store-cupboards shaken down by police, and the debate is getting hotter. Chasing the story, the Chicago Sun-Times ran the glorious headline: “Jewish leaders: Overturning foie gras ban could anger God.” The same paper published a column of “Faux foie gras” recipes, including spinach and pimiento pâtés. This may have swung popular sentiment back in favour of goose livers.
Could such a thing happen here? Britain loves foie gras: imports have risen steadily since the 1990s and few ambitious chefs fail to sport it on their menus. Such is the demand, worldwide, that some French producers have set up in China. France is the origin of about three quarters of the world’s foie gras, and France is now eating, at 19,000 tonnes a year, fractionally more than it produces. In 2005, France exported 2,217 tonnes of foie gras crus and another 887 tonnes blended into pâtés. But to satisfy the domestic appetite—Christmas isn’t Christmas in France without foie gras—France imported 3,350 tonnes, mainly from eastern Europe.
Yet foie gras is a prime target of the animal welfare lobby, and in 2004 the European commission recommended that member states find a more humane process than the gavage, the traditional force-feeding of ducks and geese to fatten their livers. The debate hinges on whether foie gras is, as some claim, “the only food produced by torture”; or merely, as CIA interrogation experts might put it, an enhanced food-production technique involving no unnatural practice in that it merely exploits the propensity of migrating birds to fatten themselves before transcontinental journeys. And that comes down to whether you believe hepatic steatosis—the extreme fattening of the…