By Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The price of foie gras in Hungary, one of the world's leading producers of the delicacy, has surged since an outbreak of bird flu forced farmers to cull more than 3 million fowl, mostly geese and ducks.
A kilo of goose foie gras cost about 13,000 forints ($45) in Budapest's Lehel market hall on Wednesday morning, almost double of what it was before the bird flu crisis.
For most Hungarians, nothing beats the traditional roast foie gras served cold in its own lard with onions. But some restaurants in Budapest are facing difficulty trying to get hold of foie gras and whole geese and ducks.
In Budapest's historic Jewish quarter, the Macesz Bistro offers traditional Jewish and Hungarian goose and duck dishes on its menu, from goose foie gras pate to stuffed neck of goose, goose risotto and duck breast.
Manager Csaba Szabo said the restaurant had faced problems with supply since mid-December, especially for goose foie gras, and some dishes were taken of the menu during the holidays.
"This peaked during the holiday season, when we practically could not buy goose liver and prices soared," he said.
Prices were now about 25 percent higher but goose liver and legs were now more readily available.
Graphic: World bird flu cases: http://tmsnrt.rs/2jAfj0M
Graphic: Foie gras production: http://tmsnrt.rs/2k46gZ9
The government said on Monday it would seek European Union support to tackle the economic fallout from bird flu outbreaks.
Producers will also ask the European Federation of Foie Gras Producers to fight for a permanent EU financial support mechanism to tackle similar crises as the disease returns every several years.
"If we want to preserve an important part of European cultural and gastronomical heritage, foie gras, then the EU Commission must also take steps to tackle this issue," said Attila Csorbai, head of the Poultry Product Board of Hungary.
Foie gras is made from geese and duck livers which have been fattened with grain, usually by force feeding. It is a gourmet food in both Western and Asian cuisine.
Csorbai said Hungary produced 1,600 to 1,800 tonnes of goose foie gras per year in the past and even under the most optimistic estimates, output this year will only reach 50-60 percent of 2016 levels. The same is true for duck foie gras.
Due to the outbreak in November, which mostly affected waterfowl farmers in southeast Hungary, several slaughtering houses have reduced output sharply, Csorbai said.
About 3,000 jobs could be at risk without financial support to pay wages to workers while the plants are idle. Total losses in the sector could reach up to 10 billion forints, he said.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Angus MacSwan)