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Government holding talks in step towards UK ban on foie gras

Exclusive: MPs ‘lose patience’ over delay as minister considers outlawing imports of product made from force-feeding birds

Jane Dalton
Saturday 07 August 2021 13:10 BST
Related video: A French chef creates foie gras without force-feeding animals

The government has begun talks with the food industry over moves to ban foie gras in the UK. MPs told the government last month they were losing patience over its lack of action on outlawing imports of the controversial delicacy made from the fattened livers of geese and ducks that have been repeatedly force-fed.

The cross-party group of MPs told environment secretary George Eustice and animal welfare minister Lord Goldsmith they were unhappy at not receiving a response after lobbying them earlier this year, warning: “The UK public is growing impatient, as are we.”

The government has repeatedly hinted it will ban imports of foie gras, which is considered so cruel that it is illegal to produce in the UK, although an estimated 200 tonnes is imported from mainland Europe each year.

In its animal-welfare action plan published in May, the government pledged to gather evidence to shape a decision on imports. It had long said that banning imports was impossible while Britain was in the EU.

But now sources have confirmed to The Independent that the government is holding talks with interested parties, including leaders in the UK food industry and animal welfare organisations.

In an open letter to the ministers, the MPs, including Conservative backbencher Henry Smith, called for an urgent meeting.

“Following our letter dated 26th March 2021, we continue to await receipt of a) a roadmap and b) a proposed timeline confirming when a ban on the importation of foie gras produced by force-feeding will be implemented (covering all sales of foie gras in the UK),” the letter said.

It noted that in June the European Parliament called on the European Commission to draw up plans to prohibit the “cruel and unnecessary” force-feeding of ducks and geese.

The letter, seen by The Independent, added: “We call on the UK to make the most of this unique opportunity to lead the way; we urge you to put in place this landmark legislation for animals and, in turn, encourage the rest of the world to follow suit.

The signatories complained they had received little information on the government’s next steps or when a ban was likely to be written into law.

For the new Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill to hold “significant meaning and weight in reality”, the letter warned, “the UK cannot continue to support torturous practices such as force-feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras – practices known to induce undeniable anguish and pain for the sentient animals involved.

“There is, and always has been, strong public momentum behind this issue, with over 200,000 people backing a petition – led by animal-protection organisation Animal Equality UK – to abolish this cruel product from our shores.”

As well as Mr Smith, Labour’s Hilary Benn, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, SNP MP Lisa Cameron, Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse, Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake and the DUP’s Jim Shannon all signed.

Ms Lucas said: “We have no right to call ourselves a nation of animal lovers until foie gras is banned, once and for all.”

The Animal Equality organisation, which has had several meetings with government officials to discuss issues including their call for a ban, says it is optimistic Mr Eustice and Lord Goldsmith will agree to discuss the next step.

Executive director Abigail Penny said: “The science is clear: force-feeding is without a doubt absolutely agonising for the animals involved.

“I invite cabinet ministers and government officials to a roundtable discussion with Animal Equality and the signatories of our open letter.”

Lord Goldsmith, who is thought to support a ban, said: “There is no doubt that the production of foie gras from ducks or geese using force-feeding raises very serious welfare issues. The practice is rightly banned in the UK as it is incompatible with our own welfare standards.

“As an independent nation, we now have the opportunity to go further, and through our action plan for animal welfare we have committed to looking into a ban on the import or sale of foie gras – and are building an evidence base to inform that decision.”

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