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Foie gras makers protest against California ban

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09:09 CEST+02:00

France's foie gras industry says legislation due to come into force in California on July 1 banning the sale of duck or goose liver pate over animal rights concerns contravenes international trade law.

"We asked for a meeting on Monday with the agriculture minister," said Marie-Pierre Pe, chief representative of industry committee CIFOG.

"Bulgaria and Hungary, the other countries of the European foie gras federation, have asked their governments to seek action from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as the California law infringes on WTO law," she added.

Californian lawmakers passed the legislation in 2004 that bans production and sale of foie gras, as it is made by what is deemed to be a cruel practice of force-feeding ducks and geese so their livers become enlarged.

Producers were given seven years to find a more humane alternative to fattening the geese or ducks.

But even prior to the new law, Washington has been imposing tougher veterinary and sanitary restrictions on foie gras and increased taxes on imports.

As a result, French exports to the United States of foie gras over the last four or five years have been "practically non-existent," said the CIFOG.

"Our firms abroad are now targeting emerging countries who are bigger consumers" of foie gras, said Gersois Philippe Baron, president of France's national producers, which is part of CIFOG.

Even if the group is setting its sights elsewhere, it said it was necessary to challenge the California decision.

"Even if the financial impact is tiny the decision by California really prejudices our image," said Marie-Pierre Pe.

"Since we respect the physiology of the animal, we cannot just let this go without reacting," she said, adding that the oesophagus of a goose or a duck has greater elasticity than that of a human.

"Charities protest against gavage but they don't even know how it is done," said Martin Malvy, the president of France's southern Midi-Pyrenees region, which counts among France's biggest producers of the controversial delicacy.  

"It's worrying that politicians are making decisions without taking into the reality, the techniques used today, into account.

"Prohibition has never produced a good result," he said.

Not everyone in California is happy with the new law either.

The state's one and only producer of foie gras, Guillermo Gonzalez, has had to shut down his business and some 300 restaurants in the state are ready to challenge the legislation, according to CIFOG.

Meanwhile, Malvy has sent a tongue in cheek foie gras tasting invitation to California governor Jerry Brown and a number of state travel agencies.

"When people rear beef with hormones and cultivate genetically modified crops they can't come and tell us how to fatten our birds," he said.

In 2009 the US imposed a similar tax on Roquefort cheese in retaliation for a European ban on American beef reared with hormones.

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