A proposed ban on imports of foie gras to the UK has been described as “an attack on freedom” by the French foie gras trade body Cifog, which rejected cruelty allegations.
A spokesperson for the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed to The Connexion that a ban is being considered.
The ban would now be easier to bring in due to Brexit.
“The government has made clear that the production of foie gras from ducks or geese, using force-feeding, raises serious concerns, and the practice is rightly banned in the UK,” she said.
“The government is considering the further steps it could take in relation to foie gras.”
A spokesperson for the European Commission confirmed to The Connexion that it is only since the UK left the EU that it is now able to ban imports of certain foods from France.
“The difference is that, when part of the single market, member states cannot refuse products that are legally produced and marketed in other member states, unless they can demonstrate that the ban is necessary in order effectively to protect the interests of general public interest,” she said.
She added that if they do they must comply with the principle of proportionality, meaning the measures should be fair and justifiable.
But managing director of the foie gras trade body, Cifog, Marie-Pierre Pé, told The Connexion that a ban on imports would be “a real attack on the freedom of British lovers of foie gras”.
France is by far the biggest producer, consumer and exporter of foie gras in the world, with the main export markets Europe, the US and China.
In 2019, annual production was at around 16,400 tonnes, Cifog told The Connexion. In the same year, exports to the UK totalled around 29 tonnes of raw foie gras, worth around €789,000; and 65 tonnes of processed foie gras, worth around €891,000.
Foie gras is produced by force-feeding ducks and geese with cooked maize or other corn so that the liver swells to 10 times its normal size.
It is usually cooked by being poached, fried, or made into paté.
Supporters say the process mimics the birds’ normal feeding pattern, in which they gorge themselves in Autumn, to build reserves for the winter or for migration.
But opponents say it is cruel, especially when done on an industrial scale, with machines pumping the food down the animals’ gullets, and where workers are not always gentle in their handling of the birds.
French animal rights association L214 Éthique et Animaux has called for the force-feeding practice to be banned.
“After each feeding, the birds suffer from diarrhea and panting (hyperventilation). Liver function is disrupted and the animals have difficulty regulating their body temperature,” the association notes on its website.
Foie gras production is banned across much of Europe, including in the UK. As of 2016, only five European countries still produce foie gras: Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, and Spain.
Ms Pé said cruelty accusations “showed a total misunderstanding of this production, which depends on a natural mechanisation of storing fat in the livers of some species of palmipèdes (webbed feet water fowl). There are scientific reports that support this.”
And, she added: “The animal associations project anthropomorphic perceptions on this form of livestock rearing, to boost their arguments for a vegetarian world. They want to impose their idea by taking away the freedom from others.”
Cifog is making an effort to promote foie gras in France this year, with farms due to open their gates for the Journées du Patrimoine, by running promotions in restaurants when they reopen and producing TV shows featuring foie gras.
A study for Cifog carried out at the end of last year showed that 91% of French people said they had eaten or intended to eat foie gras.
Total French exports across the world totalled around 1,450 tonnes of raw foie gras and 1,549 tonnes of processed foie gras in 2019.
Despite the Covid-19 crisis - which has caused restaurants to close, cutting off 40% of usual foie gras consumption - the industry reported a good end of year. There was a 32% jump in sales for Christmas and a 27% rise for the New Year compared to 2019.
Exports also recovered in 2020, showing a trade surplus of €1 million, even though over the year the volume of exports fell by 19%.
Much of the boost in exports came from China opening its doors, after eight years of banning the product over concerns of bird flu.
Exports to China shut again at the end of November, due to renewed concerns about bird flu in Europe.
The present bird flu outbreak has led to mass culls of ducks and geese in some affected areas, and production of foie gras in France in 2021 is expected to be down around 20% compared to last year.
Cifog says that the business supports 30,000 families on farms and 100,000 direct and indirect jobs in France.