China is set to become one of the biggest international producers of foie gras, much to the chagrin of the mainland's fledgling animal rights movement.
The move comes as concerns about force-feeding connected to the French delicacy is driving the industry out of developed nations.
But plans to establish a massive production facility on the shores of Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province, announced by a British investment company, have prompted a Beijing-based environmental group to call for a boycott of the delicacy.
The Darwin Natural Knowledge Society has launched a campaign condemning the project, which it believes would be one of the biggest in the world.
'As we understand it, the project has already started, and the first products are expected to be on the market by the end of this year,' said Liu Huili, a spokeswoman for the society. 'Foie gras production is inherently cruel, as the force-feeding causes the ducks' livers to swell up to six to 10 times their normal size.'
Concerns over the traditional gavage method - force-feeding ducks and geese through a metal tube inserted down the bird's throat - has led to growing pressure for a ban in all European Union countries.
A food fair in Germany in July caused a minor diplomatic incident after it banned French producers of foie gras from attending, on the grounds of animal rights concerns.
The society's comments were in response to an announcement by Creek Project Investments, a British-based company, that it would invest about 100 million yuan (HK$122.5 million) in duck and geese farming in Ganlu township, south of Jiujiang, Jiangxi, with a goal of producing 1,000 tonnes of foie gras a year.
The company's website says it expects the project to reap an annual income of close to 900 million yuan, and a profit of about 102 million yuan.
However, Bryan Cook, one of Creek Project's directors, denied that the figures were projections of the company's own involvement.
'That is the size that the local government has set out for the industry to produce,' he said. 'It is too early to say just how big our involvement will be, as it depends how many local farmers agree to work with us.
'We are probably a year to a year-and-a-half away from being ready, as it takes around 18 months to get geese to the right size. We have got some two million geese in the market and have orders in to get 15 million more.'
Cook said the company would 'do all that needs to be done' to ensure it complies with laws against animal cruelty.
Proportion of world supply of foie gras that is produced in France
- It makes about 20,000 tonnes a year