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What is “cramming” or “fattening”?
“Cramming” means feeding ducks or geese, and requires the skills and know-how of qualified professionals. Web-footed birds (or “palmipeds”) are big eaters, and at certain times they become bulimic. Like many birds, they have a beak, a throat and an oesophagus which expand to enable them to swallow prey of all kinds, as can be seen in nature. Only a healthy duck or an adult goose (aged 10 to 15 weeks), after a period of eating as much as it wants, will receive a ration sufficient to fill its crop. That ration will be given twice every 24 hours for around 11 days.
Cramming does not stress the bird, which gradually acclimatises itself to receiving the food, which gives it a feeling of fullness. This phase accounts for around 10% of the time the animal is reared.
Palmipeds have a unique anatomy: their head and neck are perfectly aligned. They have no epiglottis and their elastic, cartilage-free oesophagus allows the feeding tube to be inserted. They are given feed which is rich in starch (maize), and this enables the sugars to be transformed into fatty acids, which naturally results in fats being stored in the liver cells.
Does cramming cause stress?
No. Experiments undertaken on this issue have shown that cramming does not cause stress in Moulard ducks.
The level of corticosterone – a stress-linked hormone – in the blood does not increase during the duck’s cramming; it even tends to reduce. A number of studies have therefore confirmed that cramming does not disturb the birds any more than the fact of being caught or shut away, which are common occurrences on all farms. It has also been seen that the birds are not afraid of the person doing the cramming (the “gaveur”). They soon get used to that person and do not develop any kind of flight or avoidance reaction – contrary to what is seen with a total stranger.
How do you ensure animal welfare?
At Euralis, we believe that the health and well-being of each animal are prerequisites for product quality. Our farmers have nothing to gain from making their animals suffer. The better the cramming phase goes, the healthier the animal is, and the better quality liver it will produce. Our objective is to achieve the best balance between farming activities, the quality of the product and respect for the animal.
That is why we have taken on an expert who, on a daily basis, keeps tabs on our farmers to ensure they are implementing our best practice and striving for continuous improvement.
The job of a “gaveur” and farmer is highly demanding, requiring rigour, technical skill and knowledge. That is why Euralis supports its farmers in improving their practices to guarantee optimal quality for consumers. We therefore arrange training sessions every year for farmers on our production sites, to make them aware of the foie gras quality criteria.
Finally, our farmers have all signed up to the “Palmi G Confiance” process. They have therefore committed themselves to ensuring animals are comfortable and healthy, providing proper hygiene and welfare conditions.
The “Palmi G confiance” process: 7 commitments, strictly enforced by an independent body
Euralis is part of the “Palmi G Confiance” process. This is a progress process, requiring a maximum level of commitment. Farmers who wish to join the process are supported by specially trained technicians. During their first visit, those approved technicians assess the farm according to 7 key process criteria, mapping out routes for possible improvement and indicating the timeframe in which “Palmi G Confiance” membership will be come active. The 7 process commitments:
- Farm identity: maintain an up-to-date full description of the farm,
- Farmer training: complete training about animal welfare for farm management purposes,
- Feed: guarantee that animals receive healthy feed in appropriate quantities,
- Animal comfort: for animal welfare, to guarantee sufficient space and a comfortable environment, enabling them to lie down, move around freely and not suffer from excessive heat or cold,
- Health and hygiene: maintain animal health by guaranteeing good hygienic conditions and suitable care,
- Human/animal relations: avoid any situation causing stress to the animals by encouraging good human/animal relations,
Safety: ensure the safety of animals and people.
Is it true that your ducks live their whole lives in cages?
No, that is not true. It takes an average of 92 days to rear a duck. During the first 28 days, the ducklings are settled into a heated building and allowed to feed at will. Once their protective feathers have grown, the ducks have 56 days when they can access a grassy run, which means they are outside. Then comes the fattening period, which lasts on average 11 days; at this stage the ducks are indeed caged.
Since 2009, Euralis has initiated a lot of work on animal welfare, collective pen design, and the renovation of existing housing facilities to give the birds greater freedom of movement, for example. Nowadays, all new facilities are designed around collective pens, and the plan is to ensure that 100% of individual housing still being used by Euralis is replaced by 2015 in accordance with recommendations from the Council of Europe.
What checks are in place in your abattoirs?
A member of the Population Protection Directorate, a French State department, is always on site at our abattoirs. They check the batch certification sheet, the carcasses, the slaughter line, and may take samples to verify the quality of the animal. Every year, veterinary departments implement an annual programme of product controls. All of which demonstrates how carefully controlled our production methods are. This represents thousands of controls, implemented both internally and by organisations outside Euralis. Our aim is clear: to guarantee products of impeccable quality for our consumers and customers.
For more information: The French ministry of agriculture file:http://agriculture.gouv.fr/sante-et-protection-des-animaux
Is your production fully inspected? How often? By whom?
Yes, Euralis duck producers are checked particularly carefully, which is only right!
Euralis has been one of the main foie gras producers for many decades, as a result of which we have total quality requirements in place for our products. We implement precise controls, both by ourselves and by external bodies, at all stages of production, to guarantee quality and ensure that our products are perfectly traceable.
- The first control level applies during the rearing or cramming stage. This means a Euralis “animal production” technician making sure that our production is properly managed. Their role is to advise farmers and fatteners to improve production and guarantee that the IGP Sud-Ouest and Origine France specifications are observed. That represents several thousand inspections per annum on average.
- Every year a vet from the DDPP (Direction Départementale de la Protection de la Population, formerly the DSV) visits each IGP and Origine France farm. They look at the farm’s FCI records, the animals’ state of health, the mortality rates, and the monitoring of antibiotics use. That represents one inspection per annum, making 700 inspections for Euralis.
- In addition to the rules set out in the technical regulations for IGP Sud-Ouest certification and the fattening specifications established by Euralis, an independent inspection is also carried out on producers by Qualisud, a certification body approved by the French ministry of agriculture. Qualisud inspects the abattoir and cannery four times a year. Every year, 100 of our producers are inspected by the organisation.
To find out more about the certification body: http://www.qualisud.fr/
- There is the abattoir inspection. A member of the veterinary department management is always in attendance on our abattoir sites (Les Herbiers and Maubourguet). Here again, they check the batch certification sheet, the carcasses, the slaughter line, and may take samples to verify the quality of the animal. Every year, veterinary departments implement an annual programme of product controls.
To find out more: http://agriculture.gouv.fr/bien-etre-animal
In addition, Euralis has signed up to the Agriconfiance programme. This is a certification based on continuous improvement, aimed at action to improve the conditions under which animals are reared and to improve incomes for farmers. Here again, producers are inspected four times a year.
To find out more about the Agriconfiance process: http://www.agriconfiance.coop/
When are antibiotics given to ducks?
Antibiotics are only given under exceptional circumstances. A producer is not allowed to administer antibiotics without a prescription, and that can only be issued by a vet. The administration of antibiotics is allowed. The farmer has a duty to treat our animals; that is the first rule of animal welfare. But ducks will only be treated if they are ill. Antibiotics are given to cure, not to prevent. Furthermore, there are strict controls and regulations on the use of antibiotics. Each batch of ducks (on average 1200 animals) has a tracking sheet and an FCI (Food Chain Information) sheet. This is like an identity card, which stays with them from the hatchery to the abattoir. This proves that the rearing process is fully traceable. All the details about the animal’s life are recorded here. We can be inspected at any time, with penalties if the records are not up to date.
What is the difference between industrially produced and traditional foie gras?
This is a completely artificial distinction. It is not the David and Goliath battle that some people like to present!
The rearing conditions are identical. Indeed, the duck breeds are the same, the feed is identical (maize, wheat, oilseed) and during cramming the runs available to the ducks are the same, whilst the fattening period is similar. The product processing also meets the same quality and inspection requirements.
The difference lies in the processing tools, which are more extensive, but the majority of the work is still done manually.
Remember that the farmers and fatteners are not Euralis employees. They are farmers who sell their product to the cooperative.
They have also chosen to make fat duck and goose production their primary business activity, unlike other farmers, for whom the business is a sideline.
We produce quality foie gras, and that is why our consumers trust us.
Foie gras is a product for special celebratory occasions; that is why Montfort, ranked second in this sector, does everything it can to offer consumers the highest quality guarantees. In addition to securing consumer confidence, Montfort is also highly rated by foie gras connoisseurs; every year, the brand receives awards at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris.
Rougié brand foie gras is the benchmark for restaurateurs in the fine dining sector, both in France and worldwide. Its presence on the finest tables on the planet remains the best possible proof of enduring quality.
Is the opening of a new production site in China a first step towards shifting production abroad?
No. The foie gras produced by us in China is meant exclusively for the Chinese internal market. It enables us to respond to the growing demand from Chinese consumers and fine dining restaurant chefs looking for high-quality foie gras.
We produce in China to work around the health restrictions imposed by the authorities, who do not allow foie gras imports into China. Local production in China therefore has no impact on duck producers in the South-West.
Moreover, it would be an economic nonsense to seek to import foie gras into France because it works out much more expensive to make it in China (very high duck feed costs / transport expenses). Finally, the reason Euralis produces in China is to claim a share of the fantastic potential represented by the Asian market.
Does maize consume more water than other plants?
According to a study by the CNRS, it takes 238 litres of water to produce 1 kg of dry silage maize (destined for farm animal feed), 454 litres for maize grain, 490 litres for wheat and 900 litres for 1 kg of dried soya. Maize is an air purifier. It produces a lot of oxygen, absorbs carbon dioxide and “traps” the carbon from carbon dioxide in the soil, preventing it from polluting the atmosphere and adding to the greenhouse effect.
During the course of its growth, maize also absorbs considerable quantities of nitrates, which it draws from the soil. Maize is also an important player in “green chemicals”.
Maize starch, a natural, renewable and biodegradable product, can replace chemical components in a number of a commonly used products: medicines, papers, plastics, glues, paints, building materials, detergents. In addition, ethanol, which is derived from maize, is a renewable fuel, unlike oil, and gives a “clean” fuel which is much less polluting that traditional petrol.
Why does maize need irrigation?
Maize is a summer crop. It grows at the time of year when rainfall is lowest. This is why it sometimes needs to be watered. Those growing maize then need to resort to irrigation. In France, of the 3 million hectares of grain, seed and forage maize, 750,000 hectares are irrigated, representing 25%. That figure has been going down consistently over the past ten years (-130,000 ha).
To find out more: Agreste irrigation study http://www.agreste.agriculture.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/primeur292.pdf
What products contain maize ?
Did you know that 25% of the non-food products you find in supermarkets contain maize or a maize-derived product: starch?
Starch, whether in its natural or processed state, is used in papermaking to ensure internal cohesion within the sheet of paper and increase strength: the growing use of recycled paper has increased the need to use starch. “Coating” of paper, to hide surface irregularities, often resorts to the use of starch.
Starch derivatives are used as glues in the manufacture of corrugated cardboard and paper bags, for their adhesive properties in wallpapers, labels, sticky tape etc.. They are also frequently found as additives, gelling agents or emulsion stabilisers, in paints.
Starch-derived glucose hydrolysates help in the production of antibiotics, vitamins and other vaccines. The pharmaceuticals industry frequently makes use of starch and its derivatives to manufacture many drugs, either as an excipient, binding agent, or active ingredient, or for encapsulation, allowing controlled release of the drug within the body.
The cob, the central part of the maize ear, is used for compost, in various culture substances, in making litter for animals, heat or sound insulation materials, for polishing metal, making pipes etc.. Since it has valuable heat generation potential, it is used as an energy source (domestic heating, barbecue fuel).
What can livestock farmers gain from growing maize?
Maize is a cereal which provides considerable amounts of energy and nutritional benefits. Maize grain consists of starch, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins.
As the second most important forage resource after grass, it has become the main source of fodder for feeding dairy cattle during the winter. It is a natural product trusted by farmers: they know where it comes from and how it is produced. Properly stored, forage maize is enjoyed by dairy cattle and has good energy values.
Dairy products: according to the INRA (French national agronomic research institute), the consumption of forage maize is recommended as a way of improving butter quality in the winter (vitamin content, colour and texture).
Meat: animals fed on forage maize produce very good quality meat, as has been demonstrated in experiments with Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle.
Nearly three quarters of maize-grain production is consumed by animals, both wild and domesticated, chiefly poultry and pigs. Maize is consumed directly in farms, through home consumption, or sold to cattle feed producers. Milled and mixed with other raw ingredients such as soya or peas, it is found as an ingredient in flours and granulated feeds.
A high-energy food…
Maize-grain is valued in animal nutrition due to its high energy yield, as a result of its kernel’s rich starch and oil content. Due to its composition, maize has characteristics which make it very valuable, particularly for the production of quality label poultry (Label Rouge for example) and laying hens. It is also the benchmark feed behind a number of quality labels: Les Landes or Bresse poultry, Bayonne ham, foie gras.
How long has Euralis been producing maize?
Since 1950, the cooperative has specialised in collecting maize, and in 1954 it launched France’s first seed processing plant near Pau.
In 1975, as part of a partnership, the cooperative joined forces with the Green Giant company and set up the Seretram plant in the Landes for sweetcorn production. 80,000 tonnes of tinned sweetcorn are currently being produced.
In 1989, the cooperative entered a partnership with Bonduelle. 100,000 tonnes of tinned and frozen sweetcorn are produced every year.
Today, Euralis is a major European player on the maize market (1 million tonnes sent to market) and has developed a large seed business.
THE COOPERATIVE MODEL
How does your model differ from the traditional business model?
We are a group whose shareholders are twelve thousand farmers in the South-West. That particular feature alone means that our ambitions, structure and approach are different. A cooperative only has any meaning if it actively participates in the development of the region in which it is founded. It cannot be bought out or relocated. Its activities are aimed at the medium term, and it does not have to produce quarterly profits. It has a calling to reinvest the majority of its profits to encourage the development of its members’ businesses and to guarantee protection for the jobs of the cooperative’s employees. Any development plan for our cooperative must be both economic and social. The cooperative’s shareholders, the farmers, live right alongside the employees. They share the same concerns and the same interests.
To find out more: A word from the Euralis directors https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqavU4_SBrc
How do farmers control what Euralis does?
In a cooperative enterprise there are two basic governing bodies. The Board of Directors consists of twenty-four farmers from the cooperative. Its role is to work with the Executive Committee to map out Euralis’s key strategies, and to check that the decisions it has approved are implemented on the ground. The Board of Directors drafts a mission statement, setting out what the Executive Committee’s aims are to be.
The Executive Committee is the other governing body. It establishes the strategic aims and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the cooperative. It is responsible for providing leadership, working out the medium term plans and ensuring they are implemented. The Executive Committee works closely with the Board of Directors, and under its control.
To find out more: Euralis governance video presentation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZAWj2XMuZ8
Why are you opening new sites abroad, and none in France?
For 20 years we have been investing a great deal in our production sites in France. We are now in the process of rationalising our industrial facilities.
We are active on both national and international markets. That means we have to open production sites when it is difficult to export for reasons of competiveness, or customs or health obstacles. This means that we have a presence in Asia, North America, and Eastern Europe to keep pace with economic developments in those regions of the world. This international development bolsters our local development; it never compromises it.
Why move Euralis into agribusiness?
This diversification is a way of securing outlets for our farmers, by developing supply chains. This is the case with our duck business, giving complete control of the supply chain upstream and downstream (from the feed to the production of foie gras or duck meat). This expansion also enables us to access new markets (butchers, delicatessens, caterers, supermarkets). This puts us directly in touch with the expectations of distributors and consumers.
Given the size of the Group, have you managed to keep in close contact with your farmers?
Nearness to farmers is a major issue. We are fiercely attached to our South-West homeland; it is in our cooperative’s DNA. We’re also business people, and we operate on agricultural and agribusiness markets which are, by nature, national and often international. These two ideas are not incompatible; quite the contrary, they are complementary. One of Euralis’s tasks, for example, is to advise each member about their cereal crops. At the same time we need to perform to a high level on highly competitive international markets to ensure that those cereals can be sold. To accomplish that twofold mission, we have set up a new governance model where there is close contact with each region. The Agricultural Division is structured into four regions to keep us more in touch with our members’ needs.
How can we guarantee the quality of our non-GM products?
Full upstream and downstream traceability of production is fully guaranteed by the use of specifications, standards, accreditations, certifications and quality charters such as: the Far South-West Maize Charter, the South-West PGI, Qualimat South-West.
Independent organisations recognised by the public authorities carry out these inspections: an average of thirty inspections per year.
In addition, where GM crops are concerned, all samples taken as part of snap inspections by the authorities (DGCCRF) have been shown to comply. Samples are taken several times a month.
How could GM crops be of value to our farming members?
Biotechnologies are a real issue in terms of competitiveness, particularly in the face of growing resistance among the major threats to crops: insects, disease, parasites etc.. Given a situation where world production needs to increase across the planet to meet the challenge of feeding the population, the issue of yields cannot be ignored.
Are we in favour of GM crops?
Euralis is in favour of the use of biotechnologies where they are proven to be safe.
The use of agricultural biotechnology will enable us to meet the challenges of food supply and farming.
Thus in a world where resources need to be preserved and cultivable land is disappearing, the research needs to continue and the debate must be kept open. Biotechnologies are not in themselves the answer to the challenges of world production, but they are part of it.
Do we use GM products?
No. Euralis respects the choice made by its consumers and has not used GM products for any of its activities in France.
Euralis is extremely vigilant and attentive to its consumers’ wishes and their opinions regarding GM products and understands the mistrust which exists. Our priority is therefore to respect their choice and to meet their expectations.