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Buy early and share, foie gras makers say after bird flu slashed output

PARIS, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Foie gras will be rare and more expensive this year after bird flu devastated duck flocks in top producing countries, French producers said on Thursday, advising lovers of the delicacy to buy early if they want some for year-end celebrations.

Foie gras output is expected to fall between 30% and 35% from last year, while prices would gain about 20% due to the drop in supply combined with soaring feed and energy costs, producers group CIFOG told reporters.

"Sharing will be key because we will have far less foie gras and anticipating purchases is highly recommended," CIFOG Chairman Eric Dumas said.

France, like its smaller competitors on the foie gras market, Hungary and Bulgaria, has been severely hit by highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, this year with the loss of 3.8 million ducks.

In total, about 20 million poultry were culled because of the epidemic, the worst the country ever experienced, a farm ministry official said. It also lead to the culling of 70% of the duck chicks, preventing foie gras makers from resuming output.

On the export market, where French foie gras is mainly sold in restaurants, producers would try to supply everyone even if in smaller quantities, they said.

Concern has risen that the virus has become endemic in Europe after surviving over the summer when it usually disappears. The farm ministry said 27 outbreaks have been found on poultry farms since Aug 1.

French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said there were "concerns for the 2022-2023 season" as the virus seemed to resume its spread.

Foie gras is made from the livers of geese or ducks that have been fattened with grain, usually by force feeding.

Sold whole or as a pate, it is considered a gourmet food in both Western and Asian cuisine. The practice of force-feeding has often been criticised as cruel by animal rights activists. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Editing by William Maclean)

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