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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Israel court cans foie gras farms
Foie gras
Is the foie gras industry toast?
Israel's foie gras industry faces shutdown following a court ruling barring the force-feeding of geese and ducks.

After a decade-long fight, which has bounced between the courts and the Knesset, or parliament, the Supreme Court has agreed with activists who argue force-feeding breaks Israel's laws banning cruelty to animals.

Israel has the world's third biggest foie gras industry after France and Hungary, worth $25m a year, and the ban could cost 600 workers and farmers on 150 farms their jobs.

But the severity of Israel's current recession - more than 10% of the workforce are without a job - means the court is delaying the ban until the beginning of 2005.

The industry has until then to come up with a non-cruel alternative to force-feeding - which swells the bird's liver far beyond normal size to create the raw material for foie gras paste - to avoid being shut down.

History

Fattened goose liver has been a Middle Eastern delicacy at least since the days of Egypt's pharaohs 5,000 years ago.

I'm not sure that an alternative can be found
Yehuda Rotem, Egg and Poultry Board spokesman
It was thought to be part of Jewish culinary tradition early in the first millennium, and travelled with the Jewish diaspora to Europe.

References to Jewish foie gras farming crop up as early as the 11th century - ironically in a commentary by a religious scholar criticising his fellow Jews for causing the birds suffering.

The industry was revitalised as Jewish immigrants arrived from Europe in the 1940s and 1950s.

Alternatives

The agency regulating the poultry business acknowledges that the industry could face extinction.

Any method that achieves the aim of swelling the liver is going to entail cruelty
Dr Andre Menache
'Noah' animal rights body
Israel's Egg and Poultry Board is waiting to see whether the European Union - which has similar trouble with opposition to the foie gras business in France, by far the world's biggest producer - can come up with a way around the problem.

"I'm not sure that an alternative can be found," Yehuda Rotem, a spokesman for the Egg and Poultry Board, told BBC News Online.

"If we can't, we don't know what to do."

Public opinion

Activists, on the other hand, are sure that the ruling means an end to what they see as intense cruelty.

Noah, the umbrella body for animal rights groups in Israel, has been the main engine behind the case.

According to Dr Andre Menache, one of Noah's senior members and a Jerusalem-based veterinary surgeon, the ruling's stress on cruelty means any alternative to force-feeding will have to be provably non-harmful.

"Any method that achieves the aim of swelling the liver is going to entail cruelty," he told BBC News Online.

Noah won its case, Dr Menache said, by basing it on actual autopsies of birds that had been force-fed to prove the damage to their digestive system, throat and other organs.

Expert testimony from a UK animal rights group, Earthkind, helped sway the judges eventually.

Part of the campaign was based on trying to galvanise public opinion, in part by using graphic photos sourced by Noah member Anonymous for Animal Rights.

"Judges also read newspapers," Dr Menache said. "That may well have contributed."


SEE ALSO:
Israel economic reform 'on track'
19 Jun 03  |  Business
Sharp rise in Israeli unemployment
21 May 03  |  Business


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