Pate de foie gras faces ban over cruel farm methods

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THE CONNOISSEURS of good food are to be deprived of one of their delicacies. Pate de foie gras, a gourmet's staple, is being threatened with a European Union ban.

A new report by EU scientists recommends that the techniques used to produce the liver pate, including force feeding which is already illegal in Britain, are detrimental to the welfare of the birds and must be outlawed. Members of the Animal Health and Animal Welfare committee are even urging that the sale, importation and distribution of the pate should be prohibited.

Pressure groups say the committee's findings must now at least lead to a change in legislation over what they see as the "barbaric" production methods used to make pate de foie gras.

The report, entitled Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese, found that the mortality rate among ducks and geese, whose livers are used to produce the pate, is up to 10 times higher than that of other farmed birds. The scientists also discovered that the animals, which are kept in near darkness during the force-feeding period, showed "avoidance behaviour" indicating aversion for the person who feeds them and the feeding procedure.

The "victim" in this process is mainly the Mulard duck, a hybrid between the Muscovy duck and the domestic duck, which is used in 94 per cent of foie gras production. France, Belgium and Spain are all involved in the industry. It is regarded as a delicacy but the methods used to produce it have long been seen as barbaric by animal welfare groups.

Twice daily a tube is pushed into the birds' throats and large amounts of grain are then forced down, resulting in an enlarged liver with a high fat content. Current EU regulations define a minimum fat content for a liver to be used in foie gras production so that the pate has a distinctively rich flavour. However, the report highlights concern over the extent to which the liver swells and causes the abdomen to expand and the legs to become displaced.

Foie gras consumption has increased, especially in France, where it is eaten in restaurants and at festivals. The report says this trend is likely to be reversed because of concerns over the welfare of the birds involved.

The report is welcomed by animal welfare groups. The RSPCA is opposed to production of pate de foie gras and is already urging shoppers to boycott it. Dr Julia Wrathall, deputy head of the group's farm animal department, said the findings are a significant move towards outlawing the product. "This is an indefensibly cruel practice which must stop," she said. "We are encouraged by the fact that the report recognises there are alternative products made without causing suffering to animals which people could eat in the event of a ban."

David Wilkins, director of Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, said the EU scientists underline its own view that force feeding should be banned. "We call upon all people who care about the welfare of animals to avoid eating any foie gras product," he said.