Will there be foie gras at Christmas?

FIGAROVOX/TRIBUNE – As the bird flu epidemic now hits France, Jean-Pierre Cubertafon, modem deputy of the Dordogne, presents the breeders’ proposals to make the Périgord sector less vulnerable to the virus.

There will be foie gras at Christmas, but probably not for everyone! In my constituency of Dordogne and in the entire department of Dordogne, there is not a breeder who has not been affected by bird flu. On some farms, the feed rooms are three-quarters empty.

Pierre*, a producer near Lanouailles, stuffs batches of 300 ducks, while his stuffing room has 1,500 seats. Delivery of animals ready for forced feeding is done on a taste basis. Florian (name changed), who has just set up a small workshop near Thiviers, already knows that he will not honor all the orders placed by his customers. Fortunately, the producer of goose foie gras is also a beef cattle breeder. Its income allows it to financially amortize the loss of revenue. But for some of his colleagues, force-feeding is their only income!

According to these two fat waterfowl producers and all the others I have met, it is time to rethink the organization of the entire “fat waterfowl” sector to make it less vulnerable to bird flu.

There is no shortage of ideas. However, there is no miracle solution. The proposals from the breeders, who welcomed me to their farms, show that action must be taken at all stages of the chain, from egg production to forced feeding.

The transport of animals and the size of farms are two important carriers of bird flu.

Jean-Pierre Cubertafon

One of Pierre’s proposals is to give the Dordogne department enough duckling production units to not have to import ducklings from Pays de la Loire or Landes. The breeder proposes to create these new hatchery units by distributing them throughout the department so that they are located near the breeders of ducks to be delivered.

In addition, separating breeding grandparent rearing from duck or goose egg producers and hatching activity will limit health risks.

In fact, everything must be done so that an avian flu epidemic that occurs in such farms can be contained quickly so as not to paralyze the entire fat waterfowl industry. The force-feeders count on this production of ducklings and goslings to breed their animals and then force-feed them.

Be that as it may, it would be necessary to find and train competent Périgord breeders to start producing ducklings. They should also have the funds to invest in new buildings. And to ensure these breeders a turnover, a contract between these “new format” hatcheries and the producers of fat palmipeds in the department, which they must deliver as ducklings, is essential. This is the condition that must be met to ensure local supply.

The transport of animals and the size of farms are two important carriers of bird flu. In fact, breeders do not know the exact health status of ready-to-force-feed ducklings or ducks that they purchase. They sometimes come from stations more than 1,000 kilometers from their farm. However, the virus is spread throughout the journey by animal feathers and droppings.

The slaughter perimeters defined around each isolated outbreak lead to the elimination of thousands of unharmed animals.

Jean-Pierre Cubertafon

According to Laurent*, another breeder, it is the breeders who have made the choice, like him, to produce fat ducks from day-old ducklings, which are more spared from bird flu. We should also take inspiration from these “duckling to fat duck” production models to create more breeding units where the animals are reared without having to change farms. Care will also be taken to distance these workshops from each other and to prioritize outdoor breeding by giving each animal enough space to move around.

Another possibility is to apply the rules of the circular economy to the breeding of fat palmipeds by creating local networks of farms located a few kilometers from them.

The defended idea is to create a sanitary bubble and avoid transporting animals over long distances.

But for Martine*, who is also a breeder, the disproportionate health regulations that apply do more damage to the sector than the disease itself. The slaughter perimeters defined around each isolated outbreak lead to the elimination of thousands of unharmed animals. According to her, no restructuring of the sector is possible without vaccination. As with Covid, it is vaccination that will also give hope to all breeders.

*The first names have been changed.

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