In the village of Chanterac I once got to know a farmer who specialised in duck rearing, making his own foie gras, confit de canard and other delicacies. He had invested heavily in what he called his laboratoire, the hygiene certified place in which he sacrificed*, cut – up and processed his ducks. He had a display and tasting room and visitors could see his ducks wandering around outside – males and females separately.
He wanted my help in marketing his holiday chalet business. The English are very odd, you know, he confided to me. They will come and feed the ducks, taste and buy the produce – but they refuse to visit my state of the art salle d'abattage. It was clean, quiet and he 'sacrificed' only a few ducks at a time.
|A muscovy drake and one of his ducks - Muscovies can live up to 15 years|
- they are the main breed used in producing a fat liver - but only the males.
There is a mega industrial duck crisis in the South-West of France. The region's 4,000 odd commercial breeders and foie gras producers, spread over eight departments, have been instructed to close down their operations. Their stock has to be killed, the production hangars thoroughly disinfected and where necessary brought up to certain hygiene standards. A four month long vide sanitaire has been declared.
This is an attempt to eradicate avian 'flu – a first case was signaled in the Dordogne last November on a family farm. Everyone with poultry has been asked to confine their birds to a limited area, roofed over to avoid contamination by passing wild fowl. Avian flu is deadly for fowl, nasty for humans but only passed onto to humans in very rare cases.
There is no need for me to spell out the hopefully temporary economic disaster for the area or its repercussions on the associated businesses. The region produces 80 per cent of all French foie gras. Some of the major producers are saying that – given the shut down is only for four months – there will still be foie gras du Sud-Ouest for Christmas and New Year festivities.
But I have been culpably unaware of the industrial scale of foie gras production, the sheer wastage and cruelty of it. Perhaps because I have seldom bought branded duck meat or foie gras and now will certainly consciously avoid doing so. As I occasionally observe to the visiting holiday makers, if possible, only eat meat whose origins and upbringing (parents if you will) you know. Obviously easier in the country than in town.
Man may have been given dominion over animals by God or gods but I do not think this gives us the right to turn animals into protein factories.
* Fishermen refer to the cosh they use to stun fish as a
'priest'....some remnants of respect,