A worker watches over a group of ducks at a duck farm for the production of foie gras, meaning 'fatty liver' in French, in the town of Yanqing, located 70km north-west of Beijing. - Reuters
Prompted by an import ban, a French firm plans to be fattening a million ducks in China by 2020 to supply a growing appetite there for foie gras.
It may seem sacrilegious to suggest that foie gras can be made by anyone but the French – or anywhere else but France – the main reason for “Made In China” foie gras is that the authentic stuff is banned in China.
Despite years of lobbying, the duck liver delicacy did not make it to a list of French foods newly approved by Chinese import authorities this week.
Last year, French President Francois Hollande pushed for market access during a visit to China. Although a number of meat products won the right to request export licenses this week during Chinese President Xi Xinping’s state visit to France visit, foie gras – which some would say is the unofficial national food of France – got snubbed.
It was a disappointment,” said Rougie managing director Jean-Jacques Caspari. “We hoped things would move during this visit.” Caspari is also in charge of economic affairs for foie gras makers group CIFOG.
The import ban on foie gras prompted manufacturer Rougie, whose parent company Euralis accounts for nearly a quarter of French national production, to take a more direct route to market.
Rougie began modest output in China in 2007 with a 30-tonne foie gras plant but that was destroyed by a snowstorm in 2012.
Cutting its losses, this month it began breeding work for a facility that will house 500,000 ducks initially and aim for one million by 2020, increasing existing Chinese production by at least 50%.
“We had no choice. From the moment you cannot export and you want to get onto the Chinese market you must produce locally,” Caspari said.
The new, larger plant in the Jiangsu province between Beijing and Shanghai will produce 250 metric tonnes of foie gras a year initially and should be operating in May, Caspari said.
Euralis has nine million foie gras ducks in France, where the total foie gras duck population is 38 million. Only 3% of French foie gras comes from geese.
China’s current foie gras output is pegged at between 500 and 1,000 tonnes but there is potential for much more, Caspari said, adding Rougie would be the sole foreign maker in China.
France, the world’s top foie gras maker with 19,200 tonnes, saw its exports rise 5% in value in 2013, helped by strong gains in Japan and Belgium, its number two and three clients, partly offset by a fall in number one market, Spain, CIFOG said.
Foie gras is made from the livers of geese and ducks that have been fattened, most often by force-feeding. Sold whole or as a pate, it is considered a gourmet food in both Western and Asian cuisine.
The food remains popular among gourmet diners despite animal rights activists denouncing the practice of force-feeding as cruel. The US state of California famously banned its manufacture and sale in 2012. – Reuters