Future for Foie Gras?

HUNGARY - The future of Hungarian foie gras production from geese now depends on whether customers' sensitivities or gourmet tastes will prevail in the war over animal rights.
calendar icon 7 October 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

When international animal rights group, Four Paws, launched a campaign against Hungarian foie gras producers in 2006, it looked like yet another doomed crusade to save poultry from an allegedly barbaric procedure, reports IAfrica.

By August 2008 however, the international campaign had resulted in German supermarket chains suspending orders of Hungarian foie gras. This forced local employees of major producer Hungerit Zrt out of work and the industry into action.

Soon, the Hungarian media was full of complaints about the end of a traditional business, driven off the market in the name of animal rights and with utter disregard for people's rights.

"Force-feeding is not torture," insists Laszlo Barany, the chairperson of the Poultry Product Council, which is lobbying to be taken off a Four Paws online black list that includes a dozen of Hungarian and French companies producing foie gras by force-feeding.

Mr Barany and other Hungarians in the industry suspect that animal welfare is just an excuse for their German partners to switch to local poultry suppliers.

"German goose farmers lobby efficiently, with their growing industry needing a bigger market. They insist they are producing 'organic' products, which attracts German customers," says one Hungarian producer.

German supermarket giants Rewe and Edeka withdrew all foie gras products from their branches several years ago.

"Moreover, we decided already last year not to sell any parts — fresh or frozen — of geese or ducks that had been used for the production of foie gras," Martin Bruning of REWE Group told AFP.

At Laszlo and Magdi Piti's non-organic goose feeding farm in Ujkigyos, 226 kilometres south-east of Budapest, about 400 grey geese are waiting for their third meal a day.

Honking loudly in groups of 10 in two-square-metre pens, the birds seem non-plussed when Laszlo approaches to gently herd them toward the feeding machine.

"These are at half-time, so they have another 10 days or so of feeding," he notes.

Mr Laszlo has been feeding geese in his backyard for 24 years, taking 400 birds at a time for a feeding period of three weeks.

In these 18-21 days, a goose's precious liver more than doubles in size to reach 500 to 600 grams, producing the foie gras — literally, 'fat liver' — that is enjoyed as a delicacy all around the world.

Grabbing a bird by the wing, Mr Piti pulls it under his knee, grips a flexible rubber pipe, long as a pencil and puts it into the goose's open beak. One push on the pedal of the feeding machine and a handful of warm, soft corn and soya gruel slides rapidly down into the bird's stomach.

In a second, the goose is on its feet, walking back into its hay-covered pen looking anything but distressed.

"True, the birds do not ask for a rubber pipe down their throats, but do horses ask for the jockey or the cart? Or cows for the milking machine?" asks Lajos Papp, a local farmer and the head of the Geese Association interest group.

His business, Komlosi Lud Kft, sells about a million geese and 200,000 ducks raised for foie gras every year, most of the meat ending up in Germany.

"Let customers make the decision," urges Mr Papp.

And that indeed is the likely result in the Hungarian foie gras war ignited by Four Paws: a label informing the buyer whether the liver was produced using force feeding, to appease the animal rights' group and German retailers as well, according to Mr Papp.

With the imminent risk of bankruptcy for force feeders now gone, interest groups in the foie gras business are striking while the iron is hot.

The Hungarian parliament is now discussing a law which, following the French example, would label foie gras production as a whole as a 'Hungaricum', an official designation that would grant the industry special protection.

Further Reading

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