Eduardo Sousa cannot cope with the worldwide demand this Christmas holiday season for his 'ethical' foie gras, produced without force-feeding the geese -- a success he puts down to a French outcry over his methods.
When he won an award at a Paris food salon last year, French producers protested, arguing that 'foie gras' must come from the traditional 'gavage' or force-feeding method. The publicity that generated led to massive orders this year.
Advertisement'From England, the demand we have is quite astonishing, from restaurants, from anyone who wants something natural,' he said at his sprawling farm in the rolling hills of western Spain's Extremadura region north of Seville.
He also has orders from the United States and Japan, and has even had interest from France.
'People the world over are now looking for quality.'
He said the family farm has been producing foie gras -- French for fatty liver -- since 1812 by a 'natural' method.
In France, which produces around three-quarters of the world's foie gras, ducks and geese are fed grain through a pipe forced down their throats while they are restrained.
This swells the liver to several times its normal size and produces the rich velvety taste of the delicacy that is a staple of Christmas and New Year menus in France and elsewhere.
Animal rights groups have condemned the practice as cruel, and it is banned by law in several European countries.
But Sousa's geese roam freely around his 22-hectare (54-acre) farm where they feed mostly on acorns and grass, but also figs, lupins and olives at different times of the year.
The birds, their bellies swollen, rush excitedly among the rows of small oak trees in the bright winter sunshine pecking up the acorns that carpet the hills, as Sousa looks on like a proud parent. Two ferocious-looking dogs patrol the fields in case of predatory foxes.
The birds' livers swell naturally as they fatten themselves up for what would be a migratory winter flight south to Africa.
'When the weather gets cold the geese eat like mad 24 hours a day,' said Sousa, 40.
When their bellies begin scraping the ground, they are ready for slaughter, which is done by first gassing them to sleep, in a process overseen by veterinarians.
'Stress produces tougher meat, so it's better if the goose is relaxed when it dies,' he said.
He emphasised that no chemicals or pesticides are used in the process.
Inevitably, his foie gras is more expensive than the French version, which is produced intensively.
'In France, they need 15 days to do what takes me one year,' he said, adding that 100 of his geese need about 50,000 square metres (540,000 square feet) to feed. In a good year, he can make 1,500 kilogrammes (3,300 pounds) from 2,000 geese.
In 2006, Sousa was awarded the 'Coup de Coeur' prize for innovation for his 'gavage-free' foie gras at the Paris International Food Salon.
At first, it did not create much of a buzz.
'It was a tremendous thing, but nothing happened afterwards,' he said. 'It was when the association of French producers released a press statement (in protest) that demand soared.'
Because of the publicity, he now has 50 times as many orders as last year.
'It wasn't very smart of (the French producers). I don't think they thought it through.'
Now Sousa and his 14 employees cannot handle all the orders that are pouring in. As his product is seasonal, output is limited.
Even top London store Harrods was left wanting.
'We have attempted to make contact (with Sousa), but haven't had a response. I can only assume it's because they have so little stock available,' Andre Dang, press and product manager for Harrods' food halls and restaurants, told AFP.
Two years ago, three neighbouring farms began rearing some of his geese for him, and he now has plans to expand throughout the region and even into Portugal. A delegation of Bulgarian foie gras producers also visited this year to study his methods.
However, French producers remain unconvinced.
'This foie gras is a product that doesn't exist for our industry,' said Marcel Saint-Cricq, head of France's Foie Gras Association of the Southwest. 'It is a marketing operation that is not based on reality.'
He also rejected the charges of animal rights activists.
'Several studies have shown there is no particular stress for the geese and ducks.'
Sousa thinks the two products 'can exist perfectly side by side.'
He recommends a system of labeling within the European Union 'so consumers can choose whether they want a natural, ethical foie gras or one made through force-feeding.'
Anyway, he said, 'foie gras is a French word. Here we call it higado graso.'
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