BEIJING, April 11 -- Thanks to a growing interest in gourmet foods, China is aiming to become one of the world's biggest producers of foie gras made from goose liver in the coming years.
This was the verdict from a delegation from northeastern Jilin Province, China's biggest poultry region, during a visit to France last week.
Qi Mingce, managing director of the Jifa group, told reporters he had signed a deal with Delpeyrat based in the southwestern French town of Mont-de-Marsan.
"For the past two years we have produced about 100 tons of foie gras in our Changchun factory, that's about two-thirds of Chinese production, force-feeding some 200,000 geese," said Qi.
"But our aim is to reach 1,000 tons over the next five years with two million geese."
Delpeyrat, which has some 4.5 million ducks, is the standard bearer of France's second-biggest foie gras producer, MVVH, formed by a merger of three groups of cooperatives based around southern France.
The deal signed with Delpeyrat will help "Jifa learn about making foie gras, with the aim also of setting up a joint venture within the next 18 months to enable Delpeyrat to make its products in China and sell them to the Chinese," said Delpeyrat managing director, Thierry Blandinieres.
But he also moved to allay any fears among the 30,000 people employed across the foie gras industry in France pledging: "We will not relocate."
Foie gras has been designated by law part of French cultural and gastronomic heritage and is made by force-feeding corn to caged ducks and geese over a few months so that their livers swell with fat. It is a traditional dish for festive occasions, particularly around Christmas and the New Year.
France is the world's leading producer of foie gras, turning out some 18,450 tons a year, or some 75 percent of the world total estimated at 23,500 tones.
Most of the French production is consumed by the domestic market and only a small percentage, some 500 tons, comes from goose liver. The rest, some 96 percent, is made from duck liver.
France's nearest rival, Hungary, exports a total of 1,920 tons of duck and goose foie gras, compared with some 1,500 tons of raw foie gras exported by Bulgaria annually.
Despite fears about bird flu, consumption in France rose in 2005 to a new record of some 19,000 tons, up 2.7 percent from the year before, accounting for 85 percent of global consumption.
Qi, who says he is self-taught, began his career as a chef and was making his 15th trip to France to learn about the secrets of successful foie gras.
He said Jifa had no intention of exporting its foie gras to France, as many "hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and airport shops" in China were interested in buying it.
Currently he has four shops in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Changchun selling his foie gras products, but he hopes to boost the number to 200.
Jifa, which has a 50-million-euro turnover from its meat and animal food products, as well as weather station equipment and the car industry, employs some 2,500 people.
"The Chinese, who are seeing an improvement to their standard of living and are increasingly traveling to France where they have discovered foie gras, are looking for such products when they get home," said Dai Ying, China's delegate to the U.N. organization for industrial development.
The Chinese prefer to cook fresh or frozen foie gras in woks, rather than eat it from tins and pots.
China imposed a ban on French foie gras March 17 after bird flu was confirmed to have hit some French poultry flocks.
But according to CIFOG, the French foie gras trade body, imports of foie gras by China mainly via Hong Kong totaled some two million euros in 2005. Enditem
(Source: Shenzhen Daily/Agencies)