The past, present and future of force-feeding and “foie gras” production

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Abstract

Force-feeding is a very old practice, first recorded in ancient Egypt, but until the 1950's foie gras production remained somewhat limited in volume. Foie gras is currently produced in various countries but approximately 80% of world production and consumption takes place in France.

Geese, which were the most common specie been force-fed until recently, now account for less than 10% of the total world foie gras production. Ducks such as the Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) account for less than 5%, and mule ducks for the rest. Thus, over 35 million mule ducks were force-fed in France in 2001, accounting for nearly 95% of the domestic foie gras production. This increase was made possible by technical progress in specific breeding programmes and force-feeding practice.

However, the future of this production is uncertain, at least in Europe. Indeed, although a number of experimental approaches have shown that there is no scientific evidence that validates such adverse comment, this procedure is highly criticised in terms of animal welfare. The Council of Europe therefore adopted two specific recommendations in 1999 and although its practice is not banned at present, it is limited to the areas where it is already practised and only under specific rearing conditions. Therefore, the question is: will it be still possible to produce foie gras in France or elsewhere in Europe in the future and, if not, where and how will it be produced?

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