AUCH, France - Long accused of torture by animal-rights activists, French foie gras producers are admitting they may have gone too far and vowing changes to how ducks and geese are reared, and their livers fattened.
They are also promising a new spirit of openness and transparency about the controversial practice of gavage - the force-feeding of animals by passing plastic tubes through their throats directly into their stomachs.
"Maybe we did go a little too far," said Marie Pierre Pe of CIFOG, an industry group representing French foie gras producers.
"In the Eighties, 30 to 35 per cent of foie gras came from Eastern European countries. We had to improve production to be more competitive and maybe went too far," she said.
Animal-rights activists have carried out a sustained campaign against foie gras - literally "fatty liver" in French - for decades.
Its sale has been banned in California, Britain's House of Lords has taken it off its menu and Internet retailer Amazon has banned it from its website.
The delicacy - a standard feature on French tables at Christmas and other festive occasions - is fiercely defended by fans who argue that birds stuff themselves with food in the wild while undertaking long migratory voyages.
But critics insist the practice is cruel and a 1998 EU report showed that death rates among force-fed birds could be up to 20 times higher than in those reared normally.
Foie gras producers have also come under fire for keeping the ducks and geese in cages where they have no space to move or even spread their wings.