Foie gras producing and importing countries: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Producing countries - the ugly ones
According to the estimates of the various producer countries, world foie gras production was estimated at 26,600 tonnes of raw foie gras in 2013. With around 25,300 tonnes, European production remains the largest international producer (97%). The number of animals concerned is around 80 million per year.
The main producing countries
France is the world's leading producer, with 75% of world production, i.e. around 19,000 tonnes per year. There was a sharp drop in 2016 and 2017 due to bird flu (H5N1 avian influenza in 2016 and H5N8 in 2017), but the 2018 figures marked a sharp increase in production, which returned to its 2015 level as of the year 2019.
The sector announces an annual turnover in excess of 2 billion euros. It is dominated by three large groups: Maïsadour (Comtesse du Barry, Excel and Delpeyrat brands), Lur Berri (Labeyrie brand) Euralis (Rougié and Montfort brands) which represent 70% of French foie gras.
The areas of production in France are first of all the South-West, with 75% of French production, where there is an PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) foie gras du Sud-Ouest certification, but also the whole of Western France (Aquitaine, Charentes maritimes, Brittany). There are also producers in other regions, including nearby Switzerland, in the departments of Ain and Haute-Savoie.
In terms of jobs, the sector would give work to hundreds of thousands of people, directly and indirectly. However, these are very low-skilled jobs. Although the sector regularly communicates on the fact that the breeders are very well trained people, testimonies often show on the contrary that most of the breeders have learned on the job.
Hungary produces 9% of the world's foie gras, with an average of 2,500 tons, and thus ranks second or third in the world, depending on the year, in competition with Bulgaria. It benefited from the bird flu in France in 2016, but was affected in 2017. It specialises in the production of goose foie gras, with around 2,000 tonnes per year, which represents three-quarters of the world's goose foie gras production.
The producers also use the geese for their feathers: the animals are then plucked raw several times before being force-fed and then slaughtered. The lower level of wages compared to France makes it possible to compensate for the higher cost of goose foie gras production compared to French duck foie gras.
Bulgaria also produces 9% of the world's foie gras, with an average of 2,500 tons per year. It remains in second or third place among foie gras producers, depending on the year, neck and neck with Hungary. Just like Hungary, Bulgaria benefited from the bird flu that was raging in France in 2016, but it was also affected in 2017.
Spain produces 2% of the world's foie gras, with an average of 500 tonnes per year.
The United States, Canada and Mexico
The US production represents about 2% of world production.
China started to produce foie gras. The first fattening farms were set up in 2007, thanks to Euralis. Today, China is increasing its production capacity independently of the French group. It produced 250 tonnes in 2015, i.e. around 1% of the world's foie gras. It plans to reach one million ducks in 2020, i.e. around 600 tonnes.
Belgium produces less than 1% of the world's foie gras (25 tonnes). But Flanders recently resolved to completely cease foie gras production by 2023.
Consumer countries - the bad ones
Europe's main customers are Japan, Switzerland, Israel and Hong Kong, which account for 73% of EU exports.
France is the leading consumer country, consuming 75% of world production. As it also produces 75% of the world's foie gras and exports part of it, it must therefore import foie gras, notably from Hungary and Bulgaria.
Consumption of this product is cultural for the French. 80% of the French eat foie gras occasionally, but not very frequently: on average twice a year, with 687g per person per year in total. Despite this, consumption has fallen slightly in recent years.
Japan was the first customer for the French sector, with 18% of French exports. With the bird flu episodes of 2016 and 2017, exports to Asia were halted, but resumed in 2019.
For France, Switzerland was the second most important client after Japan in 2015, before the bird flu outbreaks. Since 2016, it has moved up to first place with more than 250 tonnes of imported foie gras. The volume consumed in Switzerland represents about 13% of French exports.
Since 2000, French exports of raw foie gras have increased by more than 100% to Switzerland.
Imports into Switzerland (customs)
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom (UK) is a very large importer of foie gras, with around 200 tonnes per year. However, production is prohibited in the UK.
The former British colony is also a major consumer of foie gras, with nearly 55 tonnes in 2019.
The new consumer countries
China consumes much of what it produces. The United Arab Emirates imported 220 tonnes in 2019.
Thailand imported 92 tonnes in 2019, Singapore 59 tonnes, the Philippines 49 tonnes, Vietnam 44 tonnes and South Korea 17 tonnes. Since the end of bird flu in 2017, we can see that France has greatly developed the South-East Asian market.
Countries banning force-feeding - the good ones
The production of foie gras is already banned in many countries, states and megacities:
New York City, USA
State of California, USA
Countries banning force-feeding
Directive 98/58/EC: animal protection
This European directive on animal protection includes a passage on animal nutrition:
[...] No animal shall be fed or watered in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering or injury and its feed or liquid ration shall not contain any substance likely to cause it unnecessary suffering or injury. [...]
This passage had a great impact on foie gras production because of the practice of force-feeding.
Acronyms of the European Union, EFSA and the Council of Europe
Council of Europe Recommendations of 22 June 1999
In order to take a closer look at foie gras production with regard to the European directive, the Council of Europe commissioned the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 1998 to produce a report on the welfare of birds in foie gras production.
In response to the findings and conclusions of the EFSA report, the Standing Committee of the Council of Europe made several important recommendations in 1999.
These recommendations concern the force-feeding and housing of ducks and geese used for foie gras production. They stipulate that certain aspects of foie gras production do not comply with the requirements of Directive 58/98/EC.
For example, many member countries of the Council of Europe have banned force-feeding in order to comply with this directive. Some countries, such as Switzerland, had already banned it, but others, such as Poland, stopped foie gras production at that time.
On 1 July 2012, the State of California passed a law banning the trade in foie gras on its territory, as force-feeding is considered torture. After many legal twists and turns, it was implemented on 7 January 2019.
Foie gras is banned in California
In November 2019, the New York City Council adopts a text banning the marketing of foie gras from 2022, as it is considered animal torture. It will be formally forbidden for any establishment to sell, serve or even store foie gras.
Foie gras is banned in New York City from 2022 onwards
In 2003, Israel enacted a law prohibiting the production of foie gras from 2005 onwards. Unlike in other countries where prohibition has taken place at the legislative level, animal activists were able to get the Israeli Supreme Court to rule that force-feeding was contrary to animal cruelty laws. In 2003, the Israeli foie gras industry was the fourth largest in the world.
On 26 June 2015, the mayor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's megalopolis, promulgated a law banning the production and sale of foie gras throughout the city on the grounds of animal cruelty.
India banned foie gras imports on July 3, 2014, following a campaign by the Animal Equality association. Foie gras is now a prohibited product.
Foie gras is banned in India following the Animal Equality campaign
And in Switzerland?
In Switzerland, foie gras production has been banned since 1978, but Switzerland remains a major importer. Finally, on 2 March 2020, a motion was tabled by Martin Haab in the National Council, at the instigation of Alliance Animale Suisse. If this motion is approved, the Federal Council will be obliged to legislate to ban the import of foie gras into Switzerland and thus put an end to foie gras in Switzerland.
Alliance Animale Suisse and Martin Haab, National Councillor
We are eagerly awaiting the outcome of this motion and, who knows, Switzerland may well become the next country without foie gras?