Is a UK ban on Foie Gras too much to stomach?

Posted On: 
3rd August 2018

Dods Monitoring's Alex Tiley speculates on the future of the controversial French delicacy, foie gras. 

Geese
Credit: 
PA

Animal rights organisations have levied pressure in recent months on the Government to ban the sale and import of Foie Gras following leaving the European Union. The production of the delicacy, ubiquitous in France where it is predominantly manufactured (over 19 thousand tonnes of it in 2015), has long been the target of disdain from animal welfare advocates, who regard the process Gavage, or funnel feeding, to be inhumane.

These animal rights groups received a boon back in February, when the Labour Party pledged to introduce a ban on the import and sale of Foie Gras. The push to introduce a ban has also attracted support from a number of liberal Hollywood celebrities, where the process and sale is banned.

In the House of Commons, MPs enjoyed the opportunity to express their horror at the practice. Heidi Allen (Con, South Cambridgeshire) called it “Horrid”, and noted ex Shadow DEFRA Minister and Vegan, Kerry McCarthy called it “unacceptable and cruel”.

Logistically, after leaving the European Union, introducing a ban on the import and sale of Foie Gras is possible. The World Trade Organisation recognises that restrictions to “protect public morals” are defensible, and so there is arguably no legal obstacle that would prevent the UK from introducing such a ban if it saw fit, despite French producers refuting this ruling.

The argument for banning the sale of Foie Gras is purely ethical, with current restrictions on food imports being motivated for biosecurity reasons  when from outside of an EU country.

The closest restrictions on animal products for ethical grounds is a current ban levied against the import of seal products on the part of the European Union. The Government is also in the process of legislating to introduce a ban on the sale of ivory products in the UK, as part of an effort to halt the illegal wildlife trade. However, although these restrictions are levied for arguably “ethical reasons”, both are an endeavour to protect CITES species and halt an illegal wildlife trade, that is, by definition, already internationally prohibited.

By comparison, the grey Landes goose, or the Muscovy duck, the most common species used in the production of Foie Gras, exist in an abundance. For the UK to introduce an ethical ban on the sale and import of one specific type of product from these animals would represent a hitherto unseen level of ethical administration for the UK in trade policy.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove has little sympathy for the idea, speculating rightfully that a trade deal that would require border checks for Foie Gras between France and the UK would not be something that French farmers or the French Government would stomach.

It is important to remember that France maintains a sentimental protectiveness over the produce, classifying it as part of the “protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France”. If the UK was to seek to prohibit the import of the product, it would likely be regarded as an unfair disregard and disrespect for French farming.

YouGov research commissioned by Animal Equality showed that only around 7 per cent of Brits had consumed Foie Gras in the last 12 months in 2017, and the product is only sold by a handful of independent butchers, and luxury supermarkets like Fortnum & Mason and Harrods. While removing Foie Gras from the few UK shelves where it could still be found is unlikely to be missed by that many, the debate that the Government need to consider is whether it is worth potentially jeopardising the UK’s future trade relationship with France when at the Government needs as many allies in Europe as it can get.

 

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