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20th Aug 2019

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Help consumers take cruelty away from EU's Xmas buffet

  • Xmas foie gras. Producers force tubes down geese and ducks' throats and pump the birds' stomachs with more grain over the course of a couple of weeks than they would normally eat in a lifetime (Photo: Adobe Stock photos)

Only five out of 28 EU member states continue to force-feed birds for the production of foie gras – a broadly-acknowledged cruel and inhumane practice.

An overwhelming majority of EU citizens expect the EU to offer better protection for farm animals and 23 EU countries no longer accept force-feeding.

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On 26 November, 79 MEPs formally prompted the commission to take its responsibilities by engaging to take firm action on a topic so many EU citizens feel strongly about, and committing to a meeting with MEPs at short term.

In January such meeting was promised for "early this year", but a date has never been fixed.

With Christmas approaching, retailers' windows fill themselves with festive products including end-of-year high end 'delicacies' such as the fatty goose or duck liver foie gras.

Because of the tricky requirement of minimum liver weights introduced in EU legislation as recently as 1991 and contained in Regulation 543/2008, foie gras is systematically the result of 'gavage', or force-feeding.

This means producers force tubes down geese's and duck' throats and pump the birds' stomachs with more grain over the course of a couple of weeks than they would normally eat in a lifetime.

Extrapolated to our own body, this would equate to the ingestion of 20kg of spaghetti every single day by a human being.

As a result, their liver pathologically grows up to 10 times bigger, with large deposits of fat.

Incapable of moving or even breathing normally, the animals face constant pain and infections loom.

It is therefore no surprise that 23 EU member states have already banned this practice, which they rightly consider as animal abuse.

The 2016 special Eurobarometer on animal welfare showed that 94 percent of EU citizens think protecting the welfare of farmed animals is important and 82 percent think they should be better protected by the EU than they are now.

Interestingly, alternatives exist and are widely embedded across the EU member states where the practice was banned.

But for such alternatives to really root in the market, we now need to see some legislative change, which is what 79 MEP's formally called for at the end of November through a written question to Commissioners Hogan and Andriukaitis in the European Parliament.

It is not the first time MEPs call on the Commission to act on this issue, however this question exceeds all previous actions by the quantity of parliamentarians it rallied and feasibility of its simple call to action.

This written question was promoted by a diverse group of MEPs: Marlene Mizzi (S&D, MT), Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, FI), Mark Demesmaeker (ECR, BE), Petras Auštrevičius (ALDE, LT), Pascal Durand (Greens, FR), and Anja Hazekamp (GUE, NL).

The EU has uncontested animal welfare laws, such as directive 58/98, applying to farming practices stating among others that "No animal shall be provided with food or liquid in a manner, nor shall such food or liquid contain any substance, which may cause unnecessary suffering or injury."

This clearly rules out the acceptability of forced feeding.

Nevertheless, in open contradiction with such requirements, regulation 543/2008 imposes minimum weights on the livers of ducks and geese, which can be reached only by force-feeding the birds, in order to be allowed to market such products as foie gras.

Today, only five EU countries continue to allow force-feeding in foie gras production, namely France, Hungary, Bulgaria, Spain, and Belgium (Wallonia only).

79 Parliamentarians representing the seven main political groups and all 28 member states have demonstrated, in the second-most-signed parliamentary question of this term, that EU citizens no longer want pockets of tolerated animal cruelty to exist in the way farmed animals are reared for our food.

They have strongly made the case that the marketing regulation on foie gras is an unjustified barrier preventing products of higher morality to prosper and gradually allow consumers to create market opportunities for foie gras production without force-feeding, based on their preference and ethical values.

As long as the requirement of minimum liver weights is maintained, foie gras production is bound to produce huge animal suffering.

This is why, jointly with 79 MEPs, we call on commissioner Hogan and commissioner Andriukaitis, in reflection of today's European public moral, article 13 TFEU and the will of the EU citizens, to support a simple, cost-free proposal - deleting the requirement of minimum liver weights contained in Regulation 543/2008 - that would empower consumers to drive change.

Author bio

Michel Vandenbosch is president of Global Action in the Interest of Animals (GAIA) and Reineke Hameleers is director of Eurogroup for Animals.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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