Foie gras snub ruffles French feathers | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.07.2011
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Foie gras snub ruffles French feathers

The latest diplomatic row between France and German has nothing to do with the euro crisis, bank stress tests or bailouts for Greece. This time, it's really serious: it's about geese.

A French and German flag

Paris and Berlin are locked in a food fight over geese

The trouble began when Germany's Anuga Food Trade Fair said that French foie gras would not be welcome this year. France did not take the news lightly.

On Wednesday, the French Foreign Trade Secretary Pierre Lellouche summoned the German ambassador, accusing Germany of failing to abide by European laws that forbid trade discrimination.

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire threatened to boycott the world's biggest food fair if foie gras wasn't allowed in.

"It's as if we in France were to prohibit the German Wienerwurst," said the socialist senator Alain Fauconnier.

Geese

France has warned there could be 'repercussions' for the ban

An uphill battle

In Germany, animal rights activists have campaigned long and hard for foie gras to be removed from the trade fair offerings.

At the heart of the controversy is the way the product is made. In order to achieve the creamy consistency foie gras is noted for, the birds - usually ducks or geese - have to be force fed.

"They're usually held in small cages in the dark, with no room to move," said Esther Müller of the German Animal Welfare Federation, adding that as a result of the handling, the animals often suffer health problems.

The production of foie gras is prohibited in Germany, as well as in 12 other European countries. But in France, it enjoys a special protection afforded to products deemed important to culinary heritage. The fattening technique - known as gavage – dates back to the ancient Egyptians.

A separate issue

Geese being force-fed

A funnel is used to force feed animals a measured dose of corn mush

Animal rights activists claim France's emphasis on the food's cultural heritage misses the point. Edmund Haferbeck, a spokesman for the German branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said the French reaction to the ban calls the nation's culinary judgment into question.

"You have to ask yourself if France is really a civilized European country when they react this way to such an important decision," he said. "France has such great culinary products - they don't need this sort of animal torture product as a national symbol."

Anuga Food Trade Fair spokeswoman Christine Hackmann refused to comment on Friday, citing upcoming talks next week aimed at resolving the issue.

But even if foie gras is banned at the fair, it will still have a loyal following at home. France only exports about five percent of the foie gras it produces.

Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Kyle James

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