The head of France’s foie gras producers’ association has said she is “shocked and outraged” that the British government is considering banning imports of the product.
And she has invited MPs to visit French farms producing foie gras to see the force feeding of ducks and geese and judge for themselves whether it is “cruel and torturous”, as animal rights campaigners claim.
Marie-Pierre Pé, director of the Comité Interprofessionnel des Palmipèdes à Foie Gras (CIFOG), which represents about 3,500 foie gras producers, said: “I am shocked and I deplore the fact that the freedom to sell a perfectly healthy product defined under international conventions is threatened.
“For a country that promotes freedom of trade, it is not only paradoxical but shows a lack of understanding of our production as well as the problem of judgments based on anthropomorphic perceptions that the animal used in the production is suffering.
“Clearly, they don’t know how we do our job. Before taking this decision I invite them to visit a foie gras producer so they can make a rational decision. We have nothing to hide and we operate with complete transparency.”
Asked about the gavage, the most controversial aspect of foie gras production, where long tubes are pushed down the birds throat to pump food into the digestive system, causing the liver to swell to several times its natural size, Pé said campaigners were anthropomorphising – attributing human characteristics to animals – by claiming this harmed or hurt the ducks and geese.
“People have to stop imaging a tube being inserted in their own throat, because a duck and goose’s throat is nothing like yours. For a start, the duck’s throat is elastic and at the base there is a pocket that allows them to stock food – called gésiers, which is like our stomach,” she said.
“It does no harm to them. Of course, you have to know how to insert the tube, but if done properly the animal does not suffer and scientific studies have been made into the possible effects of the gavage, so we know.”
“The gavage is done twice a day respecting the digestive rhythm of the animal. We cannot force the digestive cycle because if we did it would then get blocked and you wouldn’t get the foie gras.
“We cannot say there are no accidents from time to time, but it is exceptional. A farmer has no interest in harming his own animals because that would kill them – and his production.”
A cross-party group of British MPs has written to ministers urging them to ban sales of foie gras in the UK. The letter to the environment secretary, George Eustice, and the animal welfare minister, Lord Goldsmith, was coordinated by the campaign group Animal Equality.
“Over the coming months, thousands more ducks and geese will endure torturous treatment for this cruel product,” the letter states.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was “exploring further restrictions” to the delicacy following reports that Goldsmith was determined to ban sales in the UK, having described it earlier this year as “unbearably barbaric”.
Abigail Penny, executive director of Animal Equality UK, said: “Foie gras is the definition of animal cruelty and people are clearly united in their hatred for this wicked product. We simply cannot tolerate this any longer. A ban can’t come soon enough.”
However, opponents of a ban disagree. Richard Corrigan, who runs several Mayfair restaurants, has said that a ban would take the UK into “nanny-state territory”, while George Pell, the co-owner of L’Escargot, said there was a “paradox between people happily eating industrially farmed food products and advocating the ban”.
Pé said the legality of foie gras production had been examined “several times” and had been found to conform with European food regulations.
“Yes, there have been videos with shocking images from farms but they are exceptions and those farms do not reflect our sector and our profession,” she said. “Our farms are controlled by the authorities and the producers pledge to guarantee the welfare of the animal.”
She added: “I can understand if people don’t like foie gras, or they don’t want to eat animals or animal products, but there is respect for the animals in our production. I have no problem stating this because I know it is true.
“I am outraged and sad,” Pé said. “Surely the British government will not pass a law based on one-sided arguments. I personally invite them to come and see for themselves.”
Pé said foie gras had been singled out for a ban, “because foie gras is a gastronomic symbol of France. I think we are an easy target.
“It’s a recurrent theme and strategy by the animal rights groups. They produce sensational images to influence economics. We should ask ourselves, ‘are we being manipulated?’”
France is the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of foie gras. CIFOG says French farmers produced 15,000 tonnes of foie gras last year – down on the 18,800 tonnes produced in 2019 – mostly in and around the Périgord region, in south-west France. Up to 5,000 tonnes are exported annually, with up to 200 tonnes a year coming to Britain.
Pé said that despite Covid restrictions that shut winter markets and hit sales before the Christmas holidays – a period when foie gras is traditionally eaten – producers reported 1.2 million new French buyers in 2020. The sector has since been hit by outbreaks of avian flu.
“There is no problem in terms of support for our products in France,” she said. “The French love foie gras, there is extraordinary support for it,” she added.
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