For years, animal rights activists have pressured officials around the world to ban foie gras—a traditional French dish that involves force-feeding ducks and geese until their livers become fat and plump. Now, French officials are banning foie gras producers from making the dish for three months, but not necessarily because they are worried about the animals: Instead, authorities are concerned about the possibility of an upcoming outbreak of bird flu.
Last November, officials found that almost two dozen chickens at a small farm in southwestern France were found to have been killed by a strain of the H5N1 virus, commonly known as bird flu. The disease is extremely virulent and highly lethal to avian populations, but doesn’t infect humans easily, according to the World Health Organization. It can, however, be transmitted by close contact with a sick animal and if a person does catch it, bird flu can cause a serious, sometimes fatal infection.
At the time, French agricultural officials downplayed the impact, Sybille de la Hamaide and Gus Trompiz report for Reuters. Since then, however, fears of spreading the disease prompted officials to ban farmers in the region from keeping ducks or geese until mid-August, The Local reports, meaning there won’t be as much foie gras going around as usual this year.
"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,” Marie Pierre Pé, a spokesperson for the foie gras producers’ federation Cifog, tells Eric de La Chesnais for Le Figaro.
Ethical issues with force-feeding animals aside, foie gras is big business for France. Typically, the country produces about 75 percent of the world’s foie gras every year, which means raising about 38 million ducks and geese across France. Each French person spends about $33 on foie gras every year, and the industry rakes in around $2.3 billion annually, Nick Rose writes for Munchies. With production banned in the 18 regional départments that are responsible for producing as much as 70 percent of France’s foie, the industry is expecting to take a significant hit this year.
“Usually it’s full here, and it feels a bit lonely now,” a French foul breeder Florence Lasserre says, Elisabeth Perlman reports for Newsweek. “But the main thing is that the virus doesn't return."