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Moving towards a ban on production?

Europe has embraced the foie gras question. Under joint pressure from animal rights associations in Northern European countries, which are more sensitive to animal welfare issues, measures have been adopted to improve the treatment of ducks that are to be force-fed. That could sound the death knell for industrial foie gras production, ahead of a definitive ban on the product.

Individual cages banned

Following a report on the welfare of geese and ducks bred for foie gras published in 1998, the Council of Europe drew up a recommendation in 1999 aimed at banning the use of individual force-feeding cages. In concrete terms this means that it will no longer be possible to buy these cages as of December 31st 2003. By December 31st 2010 all such cages should be removed from all production centres.
Producers themselves have acknowledged that these cages, or so-called force-feeding pens, account for over 87% of installations in France. This led the Technical Institute for Aviculture (ITAVI) to declare that, “The consequences of this ban will be financial penalties and a deterioration in working conditions.”

Limits on spreading

Furthermore, other European directives limit spreading to 170kg of nitrogen per hectare. This is deplored by the ITAVI, an organisation uniting producers and the authorities, which claims that, “In certain production areas, spreading surfaces are limited and it can be very difficult to obtain permission to create or enlarge a breeding or force-feeding station. Furthermore, these regulations also require the presence of infrastructures for stocking and collecting animal faeces. The costs incurred will lower producers’ profit margins and the competitiveness of their operations. There are also environmental problems specific to the foie gras sector (problems of olfactory pollution that are more marked than for other types of animal production and the management of breeding cycles).”

No pointless suffering

Another important point, directive 98/58/CE of July 20th 1998 requires that, “Member States make the necessary arrangements to ensure that owners and operators take all appropriate measures to guarantee the welfare of their animals and in order to ensure that the aforementioned animals are not subjected to any pointless pain, suffering or damage.” Now, as highlighted by the European Commission, this text applies to all types of breeding, including that of geese and ducks for force-feeding. It is even highlighted in the annex that, “No animal should be fed or watered in a manner that causes suffering or useless damage and its food or ration of water should not contain any substance that is likely to cause suffering or pointless damage.”

The future

For the moment the impact of the directive is limited by the fact that States can still get around it, if their legislation allows them to do so. However, some European countries are increasing pressure for application of this text. The Commission has already indicated that, “If it proves necessary, the Commission will present adequate propositions to the Council with a view to standardising implementation of these recommendations on a Community level.” In other words, to ban the production of foie gras in Europe.

Producers begin to worry

This is how the Technical Institute for Aviculture (an organisation uniting producers and authorities) analyses the claims concerning animal welfare, “The production of foie gras has not escaped from the current debate over breeding systems, whose rationalisation is often compared to the dangerous drift of industrialisation, in a context that is heavily influenced by the ESB crisis. In this new context, several types of disruptive events are possible, especially a boycott or ban on the production of foie gras in the name of animal suffering and of course, changes to regulations regarding the maintenance of force-fed ducks, which raises the eventual issue of segmentation of the offering according to the way in which the ducks are kept.

And how does the organisation advocate informing consumers:

"A qualitative study has been carried out on two groups of individuals that consume foie gras to assess the importance of consumers’ current awareness of the ‘animal welfare’ issue in their product choices. This qualitative study made it possible to put the importance of the animal welfare issue into perspective as far as the image of foie gras and consumer behaviour is concerned. It also made it possible to formulate a certain number of hypotheses that may be able to explain strategic choices made by breeders in the field of communication on animal welfare issues."

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