First step: Reception and rearing of ducklings

To learn more about foie gras, we are launching a series on its production in Europe, from the arrival of the ducklings in the farms to the final product. This series will only consider duck foie gras, which makes up the majority of foie gras produced in Europe. However, it is important to note the existence of goose foie gras, which accounts for 7% of the total foie gras production in Europe. This quality dish is mainly produced in Hungary, where it has been awarded the “Hungaricum” distinction. In this article, we present you the first step of the production process: the reception and rearing of ducklings.

The foie gras production requires a long and meticulous work before it reaches our plates. This work is carried out by passionate breeders, who pass on this tradition from generation to generation. Raising ducks for foie gras production is a process that lasts between 10 and 15 weeks depending on the species. The animals are raised most of the time in artisanal family farms, with the greatest respect for animal welfare.

After the ducklings were born in hatcheries, they arrive at the farm when they are one day old. They are housed in a building heated to 30 degrees to encourage their development and give them time to feather before going outside. The breeders monitor the animals daily, especially during their first few days.

During this phase, 75% of their diet is cereal, in the form of crumbs and then pellets. Water is available whenever they want, with devices that adapt to the size of the animals according to their growth (mini drinks, then pipets, etc.).

The animals can move around among the other ducklings as they wish. Depending on the weather conditions, and when the ducklings are sufficiently feathered, they have access to an outdoor run. Next article: rearing phase of ducks in the open air. To be continued…

Since 2016, the European Commission has implemented a program aimed at promoting agricultural products from the European Union (EU). The objective is to contribute to the development and recognition of these products within the Union, as well as in high-growth potential external markets. In total, the Commission has allocated over €185.9 million to the selected projects in 2023.

In 2020, the French Foie Gras Interbranch Organisation (CIFOG) and Euro Foie Gras won the project call with their initiative titled TEACH: “Sharing the European Gastronomic Heritage.” Over the period of 2021-2023, CIFOG and Euro Foie Gras have received European funds to raise awareness about foie gras across four producing countries: France, Belgium, Spain, and Hungary, thereby promoting its entire culture, symbols, and elegance.

A significant part of this initiative unfolded on social media to communicate towards younger generations about foie gras and its environment. By investing in and targeting the practices of these younger generations through the creation of a series of short videos, we were able to disseminate our educational approach and highlight all the values and positive impacts that foie gras brings to the regional economy. Furthermore, iconic preparations were shared by ambassador chefs in the four producing countries, such as the Hungarian Rozina Wossala, and the Belgians Tom Vermeiren and Julien Lapraille. Their actions were crucial in educating and raising awareness among the younger generations.

Additionally, numerous influencers were engaged to place foie gras at the heart of culinary preparations.

Beyond social media, two important events, Madrid Fusion (January 24, 2023) and the Gault et Millau 2022 encounter showcased foie gras through effective communication and gastronomic valorisation. Prominent personalities with established reputations promoted the product, including Ketty Fresneda, a renowned ambassador chef in Spain.

The launch of the “On the roads to Foie Gras website, available in six languages, was a major success. The anticipated website visits were exceeded and doubled, accumulating over 400,000 visits in two years! The benefits were manifold, including the exposure of recipes created by the ambassador chefs from the producing countries, pages dedicated to education that explain the production process of this delicacy and its specificities, as well as the inclusion of various culinary challenges.

Finally, numerous actions were implemented to engage with the younger generations on the ground by visiting culinary and agronomy schools. Through these encounters, foie gras was presented, from its creation to its consumption encompassing the symbols it embodies, to the next generation that will elevate it on plates or in farms. These were moments of knowledge and transmission of passion to the successors of the foie gras sector. This educational and awareness-building ambition were also extended to supermarkets, where department managers were trained to effectively answer young consumers’ questions.

This campaign, with its multi-modal influence approach, has been a true success for the European foie gras sector, effectively raising awareness about the product, its image, and the environment in which it operates.

Discover the series of videos of different producer countries:

With the summer sun, Euro Foie Gras’ members gathered on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Brussels for the General Assembly. Christophe Barrailh, President of Euro Foie Gras, stated, “There are numerous European challenges for our sector: the revision of European marketing standards, the future legislative proposals on animal welfare, and the implementation of vaccination against avian influenza. In all these important issues for the future of our sector of excellence, the sector remains proactive, constructive, and determined.

With the resurgence of avian influenza outbreaks affecting the poultry sector in several European countries at an unprecedented time of the year, Euro Foie Gras called for the rapid implementation of vaccination. While emphasizing that biosecurity and surveillance measures remain and will remain the cornerstone of the fight against this epizootic, there is great hope that this additional tool will help effectively curb this scourge in the long term.

Furthermore, the European foie gras sector strongly reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the definition of raw foie gras with minimum weights of 300 grams for ducks and 400 grams for geese in the future delegated regulation on European marketing standards for poultry. All stakeholders in the sector are committed to offering European consumers and restaurateurs a quality product that matches the exceptional delicacy that foie gras represents, and thus protecting them against any misleading denomination. Only the maintenance of an ambitious and robust definition of raw foie gras will ensure this objective.

Regarding animal welfare, Euro Foie Gras is resolutely focused on the future. While denouncing a partial and biased scientific opinion from EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) as regards the welfare of ducks, geese, and quails, the profession has acknowledged the need for further research to address the current lack of scientific data on several aspects. The sector reaffirmed the importance of finding balanced and sustainable solutions that meet multiple objectives: the well-being of farmers, the welfare of animals, sanitary requirements, the environment, and economic sustainability.

All these topics will undoubtedly be at the heart of the federation’s next Board meeting in October. The appointment is set!

In its new position paper on killing methods, Euro Foie Gras is in favor of maintaining water bath stunning for fat palmipeds, at least for slaughterhouses whose slaughter frequency is less than 8,000 poultry/hour. EFSA’s 2019 scientific opinion on the slaughter of poultry indicates that below 8,000 birds/hour on a chain, operators have time to identify if some fat palmipeds are not properly stunned and thus to apply the appropriate corrective measures. 

The European foie gras sector also emphasizes that its slaughterhouses comply with animal welfare standards. Getting quality products requires slaughtering properly fat palmipeds in full respect of their welfare and the current water bath stunning system works well if the equipment used is correctly adjusted. In addition, Euro Foie Gras insists on the fact that the veterinary services regularly check fat palmipeds slaughterhouses and each of them has an animal protection officer who ensures that no animal is consciously bled. Furthermore over the last years, the use of a system for recording water bath stunning parameters has allowed to control the correct setting of the system as well as precise monitoring. 

Finally, it has been proven that being diving animals in natural conditions, fat palmipeds have a special anatomical capacity which, unlike other poultry, enables them to remain apneic for several minutes in the presence of high concentrations of CO2. This makes water bath stunning the most effective solution, since gas stunning does not cause the loss of consciousness of all the animals of the same batch within a certain period. 

With this new position paper, Euro Foie Gras reaffirms its constructive spirit a few months before the publication, by the European Commission, of the legislative proposals on animal welfare.

A new edition of the Circle of Foie Gras Friends cocktail was held on 21 March at the Representation of the New-Aquitaine Region in Brussels. About 60 MEPs, members of the permanent and regional representations to the EU, and other friends of foie gras gathered for a moment of sharing and conviviality around this delicacy. This was an opportunity to thank two MEPs for their mobilisation in favour of our European production by awarding them the Federation’s Golden Palm.

After thanking the numerous participants for their presence at this third and last cocktail of the Circle of this mandate, Christophe Barrailh, President of Euro Foie Gras, recalled the numerous challenges that the sector will have to face in this pre-electoral year:

  • The implementation of vaccination to combat avian influenza, vaccination that has just been authorised by the European Union. Nevertheless, biosecurity and monitoring measures are and will remain the pillars of the fight against avian influenza. Ensuring continued exports to third countries will also be a major challenge.
  • The adoption of legislative proposals on animal welfare in autumn 2023. Recalling that the sector has always been in a ‘constructive’ mindset, Mr Barrailh also warned the European Commission “against any unreasonable proposal that would have dramatic consequences for our extensive, mostly free-range and family farming system”.
  • The revision of the European marketing standards for poultry, including foie gras, for which Euro Foie Gras calls on the European institutions to maintain the status quo in order to allow our product to retain its excellence and for consumers to be properly informed.

The Federation also awarded the Golden Palm to two MEPs who are members of the Circle and who have particularly distinguished themselves by their constant commitment to the European production of foie gras: Ms Sander and Mr Zoido. Both great lovers of European gastronomy, they have always supported our sector with strength and conviction both on the subject of animal welfare and marketing standards. 

Euro Foie Gras also had the pleasure to induct two new MEPs from Spain and to thank the MEPs already members of the Circle. Exchanges were friendly around delicious and multiple preparations based on fat palmipeds.  This was the last opportunity to meet during this term of the European Parliament before the European elections of 2024. The appointment has already been made for a new cocktail in 2025!

Euro Foie Gras is one of the members of the European Livestock Voice (ELV), a group that brings together European organizations active in the European livestock sector. In the face of unfounded criticism and misinformation, the objective of the ELV is to bring back a balanced debate on the European scene around this essential sector. Livestock is crucial in terms of food security, the preservation of Europe’s rich agricultural and culinary heritage, but also in economic, social and environmental terms.

The ELV wrote in an article: “Today livestock farming is a key part of rural Europe. Livestock is present in almost all regions of Europe in a wide variety of production systems depending on the local economic, geographical, and sociological contexts. The livestock sector contributes substantially to the European economy (168 billion euros per year, 45% of total agricultural activity), to the trade balance and creates jobs for almost 30 million people. Without cattle, the rural exodus will increase, creating additional pressure in our cities, and a greater disconnection with nature and with our cultural heritage. Land abandonment would also lead to an increased risk of forest fires in a context of global warming. »

Livestock is vital from an environmental point of view since it contributes to the regulation of ecological cycles and in particular to the fertility of the planet’s soils. With the supply of organic matter through manure as well as the existence of permanent grasslands, livestock farming contributes to the storage of carbon in the soil and therefore to the mitigation of greenhouse gases. The end of livestock farming would inevitably lead to the disappearance of grasslands that would no longer be useful. Thus, the development of fallow land replacing managed grasslands would cause a huge loss of biodiversity. It should be stressed that European permanent grasslands contain 50% of European endemic plant species.[1] Therefore, the preservation of livestock is also crucial for the conservation of biodiversity and the protection of land in Europe.

Euro Foie Gras will continue to work in favor of preserving of European livestock farming and promoting its numerous benefits in partnership with the other member associations of the ELV.

[1] A world without livestock farming makes no sense from humanitarian, economic, ecological and agronomic point of view – Euractiv

After analysing the different good practices in place in the producing countries, Euro Foie Gras members have developed and adopted 18 common indicators of animal welfare.

Covering the rearing and fattening phases, they are indicators of means that allow farmers to adopt the means required to ensure a high level of animal welfare. They are articulated and aligned with the five freedoms, which are the guiding principles for the work of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH). Widely recognised, these five freedoms describe society’s expectations for the conditions animals should experience when they are under human care. 

The 18 indicators also serve to ensure that European farmers are properly implementing EU legislation, and in some cases, they even go beyond. Some of them are adapted during the containment period required by EU legislation in the event of a risk of avian influenza.

These indicators include for example:

  • the placing of drinking troughs that meet the needs of fat palmipeds to have permanent access to quality water and to be able to wet their heads at a minimum, being eminently aquatic birds;
  • daily monitoring of the animals, carried out by the farmer or by competent staff, and up to twice a day during the fattening phase;
  • the installation of natural areas (trees, hedges and bushes) and/or artificial ones (tunnels, buildings) that provide shelter from draughts, excess sun or rain, thus avoiding thermic stress;
  • the installation of a dedicated area for the isolation of weakened animals with water and feed available at each production unit;
  • Access to open air area during the rearing phase and the setting of maximum animal densities during the fattening phase.

Euro Foie Gras has always worked and will continue to work so that fat palmipeds are reared in optimal conditions by fully ensuring their well-being while meeting requirements related to sanitary aspects and offering satisfactory working conditions to breeders. This ambitious work which ended with the adoption of the 18 indicators shows once again that the foie gras sector has been engaged, since its creation, in a process of progress and constant improvement of breeding practices based on the most recent scientific data.

Learn more about the 18 indicators by reading our position paper and its annex.

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “Protecting the EU’s rural heritage, food security and supply” was launched on 2 November. The initiative has the following objectives:

  • Valuing cultural heritage,
  • Preserving and promoting European agriculture, rural territories and regional heritages,
  • Maintaining food security,
  • Promoting investment and rising living standards in rural areas.

To oblige the European Commission to respond (positively or negatively), this citizens’ initiative must reach, within one year, 1 million signatures of European citizens from at least 7 Member States.

Euro Foie Gras calls on MEPs, stakeholders and European citizens to support this ECI.

Sign here.

On Monday 24 October, Euro Foie Gras held its Board meeting in Brussels. Members from Hungary, Spain, France, Belgium and Bulgaria had the pleasure to meet and exchange on the latest news of the European political agenda. 

Euro Foie Gras members discussed the subject of marketing standards for agricultural products, which are currently under review. Euro Foie Gras strongly supports the maintenance of the definition of raw foie gras and calls for the addition of a definition for processed foie gras. “As foie gras is a traditional gastronomic product with a high value, robust marketing standards are essential to ensure the quality of the product and to protect consumers against fraudulent practices” said Christophe Barrailh, President of Euro Foie Gras.

In addition, the Federation adopted a position paper with eighteen common indicators of animal welfare, which demonstrates the constant efforts and commitments of European fat palmiped farmers in this area. The members also welcomed the European Commission’s reminder, in its fitness check of the European legislation on animal welfare, of the legality of foie gras production and the obligation for Member States to maintain its marketing. As highlighted by the Commission in the same document, Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) lays down that the “ customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage” must be respected.

In addition, the latest outbreaks of avian influenza have had a severe impact on the sector, affecting breeding stock in particular. For this reason, members reaffirmed that vaccination remains an essential and complementary measure to the biosecurity measures in place. Nevertheless, the introduction of such a measure in Europe should not harm exports.

Finally, the members reported on the various farm visits organised with European policy makers. “We are delighted that the policy makers took the time to visit our farms, as well as with their positive feedback” added Christophe Barrailh.

Euro Foie Gras welcomes the decision of the European Commission to address the issue of vaccination of animals and in particular poultry within the European Union (EU). The Commission is about to adopt a delegated act aiming at defining the conditions of use of veterinary medicines and vaccines, in particular against avian influenza. Euro Foie Gras contributed to the public consultation in view of the adoption of this delegated act in order to highlight the issues and concerns of the sector.

The European poultry sector, including fat palmipeds (ducks and geese), has suffered from recurrent outbreaks of avian influenza over the past five years, with serious economic repercussions across the EU. In response to successive outbreaks, fat palmiped breeders have invested heavily and put in place strict biosecurity and surveillance rules to prevent and control avian influenza and to limit the risk of future spread, such as sheltering animals or reducing stocking densities.

However, despite the many efforts made by farmers in terms of biosecurity, avian influenza has not been eradicated. For this reason, Euro Foie Gras considers that vaccination represents an indispensable complementary tool for the prevention and control of this animal disease, in addition to the biosecurity measures already implemented. Furthermore, the protection of breeding flocks through vaccination is becoming a survival issue for this outstanding sector.

However, it is essential that this new tool does not threaten export opportunities for foie gras to third countries. Therefore, Euro Foie Gras has asked the European Commission to quickly discuss with the EU’s trading partners to ensure that the vaccine approach is accepted and does not hinder trade. Finally, it should be ensured that all trading partners respect the rules of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) which do not foresee trade restrictions when a State decides to vaccinate.

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