Fois gras, the French culinary jewel that is as delicious as it is controversial, is a staple1
of upscale restaurants across the country. But now it's vanishing from menus during an "unprecedented2
" crisis that has seen some manufacturers begin to consider reducing portions.
At the heart of the problem is a bird flu epidemic3
that has been sweeping4
across the country -- and Europe -- for months. It's already devastated5
the country's poultry6
industry, but now it threatens one of the country's greatest bastions: Its Michelin-starred restaurants.
"It's been a month since we started to have less foie gras, and then this week we got none," says Pascal Lombard, the chef and owner of Le 1862, a one Michelin-star fine dining venue7
Foie gras is no stranger to crises.
Its traditional production, involving the force feeding of geese and ducks, has long attracted condemnation9
from animal rights campaigners, who have succeeded in getting such methods banned elsewhere.
Yet while French appetites for the delicacy10
have been largely undimmed by concerns over animal cruelty, another threat to avian welfare is now curbing11
The town of Les Eyzies, where Lombard's restaurant is located, is in the heart of Périgord, one of the epicenters of the latest bird flu epidemic.
The country has had to kill 16 million poultry since the epidemic first started in November 2021 to try to control the disease, the French Agriculture Ministry12
confirmed to CNN.
"This number is unprecedented for France, which had never been exposed to a crisis of such scale," said Marie-Pierre Pé, director of France's interprofessional committee for foie gras producers.
Foie gras production in France is expected to drop by up to 50% this year as the epidemic affects 80% of foie gras producers in the country.
A veteran of the foie gras industry with 35 years of experience, Pé is no stranger to avian influenza13
. Like seasonal14
outbreaks in the human world, bird flu hits Europe almost every year when birds migrate to and from Africa.
This year the epidemic emerged in spring and reached the Pays de la Loire region in the west and Périgord territory in the southwest -- two crucial poultry production areas in France.
Pays de la Loire alone represents 72% of the ducks and geese hatched in France's foie gras industry, according to Pé.
To make the situation worse, other major foie gras producing countries in Europe are also facing a similar crisis, making it hard to make up for the shortfall via imports.
Bird flu has been detected across the European Union since October 2021, including in European Federation15
of Foie Gras member states Spain, Belgium, Bulgaria and Hungary, according to the latest European Commission report on the epidemic.
To bring the epidemic to an end and help production return to normal level in 2023, Pé and her fellow foie gras producers rely on two words that the Covid pandemic has made very familiar: isolation16
In areas where bird flu is detected, producers are sheltering ducks and geese to ensure that there is no contamination with migratory18
This requires producers to reduce the number of poultry at their farm so they have enough space indoors to accommodate them, according to Pé.
candidates are on clinical trial, but they won't be available until 2023 at the earliest, Pé said.
Back in Les Eyzies in southwestern France, chef Lombard is working on new dishes to fill the void left by the foie gras shortage.
"2022 will be the year with a bit more vegetable dishes and less meat." Lombard said.