Israel has banned foie gras - the UK should too

By Steven Berkoff, November 15, 2013
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This year, Israel is set to become the first country in the world to introduce legislation banning the sale of foie gras, in addition to banning its production, which has been illegal there for nearly a decade. The bill passed its first reading by an overwhelming majority of 59 to 10.

“I am proud to be a member in a Knesset that chose to place values before interests and fleeting pleasures”, said MK Dov Lipman, an Orthodox rabbi who sponsored the legislation. “As a public official I have many responsibilities, one of them being to care for the rights of animals that depend entirely on us and can’t care for themselves. I believe that this law will contribute not only to animals but also to Israel’s global image. The time has come to get this soul-corrupting food out of Israel.”

If the legislation passes, Israel will be following in the footsteps of the state of California, which enacted a groundbreaking ban on both the production and sale of foie gras last year. Other countries should quickly follow suit and evict this “soul-corrupting food” as well.

Foie gras production isn’t just cruel – it is downright sadistic. It involves intentionally inducing a painful, debilitating illness in a healthy young animal. The term “foie gras” means “fatty liver”, after all.

Some shops don’t need a ban to stop this vile trade

To get to this gravely ill state, weeks-old ducks and geese are force-fed up to two kilogrammes of food every day through a metal tube that is shoved down their throats. This process is extremely stressful and can cause serious injuries. “[T]he regular insertion of a feeding tube down the esophagus several times a day will inevitably lead to damage of the esophagus”, says avian welfare expert Dr Ian Duncan. Undercover investigators on foie gras farms have seen birds bleeding from broken bills and neck wounds and collapsed on the floor, unable to carry their own bodyweight.

The birds’ diseased livers balloon to up to 10 times their normal size, or about the size of a rugby ball. At this point, many of the birds can barely breathe and constantly gasp for air. According to veterinarian Dr Holly Cheever of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, “due to the enormous size of the livers … the birds have no room for their air sacs to fill with oxygen … analogous to feeling as if one is smothering”.
World-renowned livestock expert and abattoir consultant Temple Grandin calls force-feeding “highly questionable from an animal welfare standpoint” and says that overloading birds’ bodies in this way can cause “metabolic diseases and other problems that can severely compromise welfare such as lameness, heart stress, loss of body condition, death losses, mobility problems or abnormal behaviour”.

Foie gras production is so cruel that chefs with an ethical bone in their body refuse to serve it, including Wolfgang Puck and Albert Roux. Prince Charles has rightly banned it from Royal menus, and many fine British institutions have done the right thing and imposed their own policies against serving it, including the BAFTAs, the BRIT Awards, Wimbledon, Lord’s Cricket Ground, both Houses of Parliament and Compass Group and Brakes, two of the UK’s largest caterers.

Retailers Selfridges, House of Fraser, Jenners and Harvey Nichols have all stopped selling it, and hotels and restaurants across the UK, not needing a sales ban in order to have nothing to do with it, continue to shun this vile product.

Ironically, despite a concerted effort led by PETA and my old on-screen adversary Sir Roger Moore, including being presented with video footage of cruelty to animals at the farms which supply the store, Fortnum & Mason – the oversized souvenir shop on Piccadilly, which prides itself on its “English” heritage – clings to sales of foie gras.

Such cruelty also violates God’s law, according to Rabbi David Rosen, the former chief rabbi of Ireland, who has said that foie gras production “is in complete contravention of the Torah’s prohibition of causing tsa’ar ba’alei chayim (cruelty or pain to animals)”.

In addition to Israel and the UK, at least a dozen other countries have banned foie gras production, including Australia, Germany and Switzerland. But so far, none of them has taken the next logical step and banned its sale. Like Rabbi Lipman, I’m proud that Israel is the first to address this hypocrisy head on and put its money where its mouth is, so to speak.
I’d be even more delighted if the UK would do the same.

Steven Berkoff is an actor and writer

Last updated: 4:45pm, November 15 2013