Government to drop ban on foie gras imports while bird flu halves France's annual production

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

The UK government is expected to drop a bill banning the import of foie gras, fur and hunting trophies when it unveils its legislative agenda in the Queen's speech later today

The 'Animals Abroad' bill was intended to tackle animal cruelty and support conservation abroad, with measures including a ban on the trade of animal trophies threatening the conservation status of animals abroad and the domestic sale of experiences abroad that involve animal cruelty, such as elephant rides. 

The domestic production of fur and foie gras have been banned in the UK for some time - since 2000 and 2006, respectively - the latter because its production involves the force-feeding of ducks and geese. The news comes months after a proposal was put forward to ban the practice of boiling lobsters alive.

'Personal Choice'

Ministers to the right of the party in power, however, said the bill was "fundamentally unconservative," raising concerns about personal choice and calling for it to be pulled.

As well as the Animals Abroad legislation, the government is expected to drop its Employment Bill in the Queen's Speech later today, which would have forced hospitality employers to share tips evenly, among a host of measures to increase fairness in the sector.

Many have removed foie gras from their menus in recent years as customers object to the cruel conditions required to produce it, amid a rise in vegetarian and vegan diets and a public opinion in favour of a ban on the import of foie gras.

It is still thought of as a staple of classical French fine dining, however, and some chefs have dug their heels in: when protesters stormed now-defunct The Square restaurant in 2019, head chef Clément Leroy came out of the kitchen brandishing a pair of ducks at the animal rights activists.

Others are more diplomatic, putting the possibility out for public vote - on social media. (An approach which has been known to backfire, such as when a restaurant in South West England was flooded with negative reviews before it even opened, after suggesting that it might include foie gras on the menu.)


16 million birds

The news comes as France faces an "unprecedented" shortage of foie gras, as an ongoing outbreak of bird flu has meant that more than 16 million birds, including ducks and geese, have been culled since the epidemic started in November 2021.

Restaurants around the country are switching up their menus to reflect the shortages, compounded by the rising cost of meat due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

France's domestic production of foie gras is expected to drop by up to 50 percent in 2022 from around 15,000 tonnes last year, as the epidemic has affected 80 percent of its producers.

France is the world's biggest exporter of foie gras, but other countries involved in its production have been plagued by the bird flu epidemic - such as Spain, Belgium, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Much like we have had to do in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, efforts are underway to isolate infected birds and develop a vaccine to combat the virus, but this won't be available until next year at the earliest.

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 10th May 2022

Government to drop ban on foie gras imports while bird flu halves France's annual production