* Rougie foie gras plant to start output in May
* Has an initial 500,000 ducks, to double size by 2020
* Sole foreign firm in growing Chinese foie gras market
* Import restrictions not lifted during Chinese state visit
By Sybille de La Hamaide
PARIS, March 28 (Reuters) - A French firm plans to be fattening a million ducks in China by 2020 to supply a growing appetite there for foie gras.
The duck liver delicacy did not make it onto a list of French foods newly approved by Chinese import authorities this week, despite years of lobbying. Manufacturer Rougie has already taken a more direct route to market.
Rougie’s parent Euralis already accounts for nearly a quarter of French national production, and began modest output in China in 2007. This month it began breeding work for a facility that will house 500,000 ducks initially and aim for 1 million by 2020, increasing by at least 50 percent existing Chinese production.
Foie gras’ failed to make the list of meat products put forward this week for approval for sale in into China. French President Francois Hollande pushed for market access during a visit to China last year and a number of meat products won the right to request export licences this week during the state visit to France of Chinese President Xi Xinping’s visit.
It was a disappointment,” said Rougie managing director Jean-Jacques Caspari. “We hoped things would move during this visit.” Caspari is also in charge of economic affairs for foie gras makers group CIFOG.
“We had no choice. From the moment you cannot export and you want to get onto the Chinese market you must produce locally,” Caspari said.
Foie gras is made from geese and duck livers which have been fattened, most often by force feeding. Sold whole or as a pate, it is considered a gourmet food in both Western and Asian cuisine, although the practice of force-feeding has been criticised as cruel by animal activists. California banned its manufacture and sale in 2012.
Euralis started Chinese production in 2007 with a 30-tonne foie gras plant. That was destroyed by a snow storm in 2012.
The new, larger plant in the Jiangsu province between Beijing and Shanghai will produce 250 tonnes of foie gras a year initially and should be operating in May, Caspari said.
Euralis has 9 million foie gras ducks in France, where the total foie gras duck population is 38 million. Only 3 percent of French foie gras comes from geese.
China’s current foie gras output is pegged at between 500 and 1,000 tonnes but there is potential for much more, Caspari said, adding Rougie would be the sole foreign maker in China.
France, the world’s top foie gras maker with 19,200 tonnes, saw its exports rise 5 percent in value in 2013, helped by strong gains in Japan and Belgium, its number two and three clients, partly offset by a fall in number one market, Spain, CIFOG said. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Andrew Callus)