One of the country's top restaurants has decided to take foie gras off the menu after it was subjected to a "terrifying" campaign of threats and vandalism by the extreme animal rights group the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
The two Michelin-starred Midsummer House in Cambridge has been serving the delicacy since it opened 10 years ago. But after a concerted campaign from animal rights activists that left buildings sprayed with slogans, the management has vowed to remove the dish altogether.
Daniel Clifford, owner and head chef at the restaurant, said the extreme nature of the latest protest had left him with no choice. "A few weeks ago I'd have said it was a question of giving my customers freedom of choice, but this is serious now," he said. "They've said if we don't take it off the menu the attacks will get worse. The police have advised that the ALF can get pretty violent, so we've been left with no choice. I have to take it off the menu for the sake of my staff, my family and my business."
It is now illegal to produce foie gras in the UK, but restaurants are allowed to import it from France. Foie gras is made by fattening a duck or goose's liver by force-feeding through pneumatically-pumped tubes, a process that can lead to impaired liver function, expansion of the abdomen and scarring of the oesophagus. The process, which campaigners say is inherently cruel, has put the delicacy at the centre of animal ethics debates.
While the vast majority of protests are peaceful and leading figures from the culinary world have joined the clamour for a ban, a small section of animal rights activists has taken the campaign to extreme lengths.
Mr Clifford said that, while anonymous letters have always been a problem, the past few months had seen a surge in the number of violent attacks. "A couple of weeks ago they put a brick through the window, and it's all escalated from there," he said.
On Valentine's Day last week, customers arriving at the restaurant were met by a crowd of protesters harassing them with chanting, sirens and drums. Then on Sunday morning, Mr Clifford awoke to find his restaurant vandalised.
Slogans saying "Stop selling foie gras" and "Ban foie gras" were sprayed across the walls, all the window panes were scratched and the locks had been glued. Mr Clifford estimates the cost of repairs and repainting will exceed £6,000.
"I'm shocked that they are prepared to go this far to target one restaurant," said Mr Clifford. "They've completely destroyed every window and every wall."
Following the attack, the ALF sent an open email to a local newspaper claiming it was responsible for the incident. It said the restaurant "made itself a target for direct action by continuing to support and profit from the horrific animal abuse involved in the production of foie gras".
"Because of the continued support by Midsummer House of such a vile industry, direct action had to be taken," the email continued.
But not all the protesters are allying themselves with the ALF. Joan Court, one of the placard-carriers at last week's protest said: "We have nothing to do with the ALF. We are continuing with peaceful and law-abiding demonstrations until foie gras is removed from menus in Cambridge."
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