A bird-flu scare forces slaughterhouses to evacuate ducks and geese.

Foie Gras Grey Geese
Credit: © Tim Graham / Alamy Stock Photo

No, the country has not suddenly changed its moral stance on force-feeding ducks and geese. The government is reacting to the discovery of a strong strain of the H5N1 virus—bird flu—which was first spotted in Dordogne last November.

The virus is deadly, but more so for birds; humans have to be in close contact with animals to get infected. The larger problem may be the loss of income and jobs as a result of this ban. Breeders throughout France cannot have any ducks or geese in slaughterhouses from now until August 15. As a result, up to 4,000 jobs may be lost and there will be nine million fewer ducks to sell, something that is certain to create cash-flow problems and raise the price of foie gras.

The Ministry of Agriculture promises to compensate breeders for the loss—estimated to be €130 million ($149 million).

Animal-rights activists, meantime, are pleased with the measure, though there is no sense that a permanent ban is being contemplated. Foie gras is illegal in the U.K.

Other countries will feel the effect of the ban too: France produces 75 per cent of the world's foie gras, according to the Local. And the ban doesn't limit just foie gras. The evacuation of ducks and geese from slaughterhouses will translate into far fewer duck-based products in general, including magrets de canards and confits de canards.

To prevent viruses like this from wreaking havoc again, the French government is developing new biosecurity measures, which are estimated to cost €220 million ($253 million)—some or all of which will be paid for by the industry (farmers and producers).