Foie gras is 'part of our culture', declare the defiant French

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Foie gras is a travesty for some, a delicacy for others. But for French politicians it is part of France's cultural heritage, to be protected like a great work of art.

Lower house deputies have approved a draft law that declares foie gras "part of the cultural and gastronomic patrimony, protected in France".

The measure is part of a sweeping bill on overall agricultural policy. The bill passed 376-150 in a first reading and now goes to the Senate. However, there was no opposition to the amendment to raise foie gras to the realm of cultural heritage. It was passed unanimously on Monday before the entire draft law was voted.

Animal rights groups, and even some governments, oppose the force-feeding of ducks and geese needed to make the gourmet product that is a specialty of south-west France. The politicians did not shy away from telling it like it is, defining foie gras in the amendment as the liver of a duck or a goose specially fattened by force-feeding. "Foie gras is an emblematic element of our gastronomy and our culture," read an accompanying explanation of the amendment.

The move comes amid growing criticism of the method used to obtain foie gras - stuffing the duck or goose for a 10-day period to fatten the liver and create the unctuous pâté. The Brigitte Bardot Foundation, which fights cruelty to animals, called it "veritable torture for geese and ducks", and asked consumers to stop eating foie gras - a mainstay of the French Christmas season. The deputies noted that France produces 83 per cent of the world's foie gras - and eats more than 90 per cent of it.

The movement against foie gras is particularly strong in the United States. Some restaurants refuse to serve it; others make it available but keep it off the menu.

The state of California will ban the force-feeding of ducks and geese to obtain foie gras by 2012. Sales of the product will be banned there in 2012 if the foie gras is obtained by force-feeding.

Laying out the amendment, French deputies gave a nod to detractors, but concluded that their concerns were untenable. Research shows "in an incontestable way" that claims of cruelty are untrue, they said.

The storing of fat in the liver of force-fed fowl "is not possible with stress or suffering of the animal," it said, calling the fattened liver a "reversible phenomenon" and not a "hepatic lesion". In any event, "no natural alternatives exist".

The deputies concluded that the product "perfectly fulfils" criteria defining the national patrimony "and the link to terroir [land] that characterises the originality of the French food model".