Foie gras producers on high alert for bird flu

19th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, October 19 (AFP) - French producers of foie gras were on high alert Tuesday over the approach of avian flu, but expressed confidence that any damage to the lucrative Christmas and New Year market will be limited.

PARIS, October 19 (AFP) - French producers of foie gras were on high alert Tuesday over the approach of avian flu, but expressed confidence that any damage to the lucrative Christmas and New Year market will be limited.

With 70 percent of French sales of foie gras taking place between November and February, industry insiders are fearful that consumers will steer clear of their product en masse if the virus hits flocks of French geese and ducks in the coming weeks.

"There is nothing we can do against an outbreak of collective irrationality," warned Jean Schwebel, president of the Feyel-Artzner group in eastern France.

But manufacturers insisted there is no risk to the product -- which consists of fatted goose or duck liver -- even if bird flu is identified in France.

"Our producers are vigilant. But there is absolutely no risk in eating foie gras -- all the more so because most of the products that are about to go on sale have already been manufactured," said Alain Labarthe, president of the main foie gras producers' organisation CIFOG.

"There is a risk to animal health and also for farmers who are in contact with infected birds, but no risk at all for food products," said Jean-Luc Guerin of the National Veterinary School in Toulouse.

France produces 90 percent of the world's foie gras and consumes 85 percent. It buys a small amount from Hungary and Bulgaria -- imports which would be banned by the EU if bird flu is detected in either country.

Bulgarian and Hungarian producers of raw foie gras fear that the deadly Asian bird flu might soon hit their flocks, while sales of the delicacy -- notably to France and Germany -- are already dropping off just as the lucrative holiday season approaches.

"A French wholesale dealer recently called to inform us that foie gras sales there are shrinking," Bulgarian poultry farmer Nikola Nikolov told AFP, adding that the business cancelled half its order for five tonnes of raw foie gras. "We will have to freeze it and wait for better days," he said.

Nikolov exports 200 tonnes of foie gras and between 350 and 400 tonnes of duck meat to France and Austria each year.

In neighboring Hungary, Petra Kun, sales manager with Carnex, a major supplier of foie gras and poultry to France and Germany, said French wholesalers "do not want to take a risk by stocking their shelves with imported poultry products (from Hungary)."

One of its customers has cancelled an order for five tonnes of duck fillets.

Bulgaria's top exporter of raw foie gras, with an annual output of 500 tonnes from a duck farm near Brezovo, declined to comment. The company was recently acquired by a major French foie gras exporter, Euralis Gastronomie.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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