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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
The cost of posh nosh

For most of us, the arrival of a huge bill at the end of a posh meal would be our greatest worry, but for those actually able to afford the champagne lifestyle, ethical dining is a growing concern.

The Duke and Duchess of Hamilton, who top the tree of Scotland's aristocracy, have stopped shopping at Edinburgh's Jenners department store because it stocks foie gras.

The French delicacy is just one of the exclusive gourmet foods giving well-to-do diners something to digest.


Foie Gras

Quite literally "fat liver", this smooth paté retails for around £180 per kilo.

The practice of heavily feeding geese and ducks to swell their livers reputedly dates back to ancient Egypt. However, modern methods of forced feeding have prompted protests by animal campaigners and foodies alike.
Goose being force-fed for foie gras
"Le Gavage": Good for the goose? (picture CIWF)

Orlando Murrin, editor of BBC Good Food magazine, says he will not enter shops or restaurants that support the trade in foie gras.

"As a cottage industry, the geese are not so much force-fed as just very gluttonous. However, commercial production of foie gras involves great cruelty to the birds."

The Council of Europe is looking into the use of mechanical feeders, "reverse Hoovers" as Mr Murrin calls them, which can force 450 grammes of maize and fat into a bird's stomach in seconds.

The process, "le gavage", causes the bird's liver to grow to 10 times its normal size and, not surprisingly, prompts a deterioration in the animal's health.

Consumption of foie gras has risen in the UK in recent years, partly thanks to the drop in prices resulting from the intensive feeding methods.

In 1998 some 70 tonnes of the product were imported, up from 42 tonnes in 1996.


Caviar

The eggs of the sturgeon are perhaps the quintessential rich man's food, with just a spoonful of the beluga variety setting you back £22. Albino caviar, when available, can cost £22,000 per kilo.

Not surprisingly, the reverence we have for this prehistoric large fish's eggs has not saved the creatures from overfishing.
Caviar
Something fishy: Caviar at risk

Between 1984 and 1994, poachers are blamed for causing official yields to fall by 75% in the Caspian Sea, where most caviar is found.

Thierry Uldry, CEO of retailer Caviar House, says much of his company's caviar is sourced from Iran, where illegal fishing is being tackled.

"Between 50-60 million fry are released every year to maintain stocks of young fish. The situation is quite under control."

The Soviet caviar industry was once tightly regulated. However, the end of the USSR has left many organisations, even the Russian Mafia, competing for the eggs.

Russia has stopped exporting the delicacy for the first time in a century, as sturgeon numbers dwindle.

"In the northern part of the Caspian there is quite some problem," says Mr Uldrey.


Lobster

While costing considerably less than foie gras, lobster retains an air of exclusivity and is no less controversial.

Tradition has it that the only way to cook the crustacean is to drop it into boiling water... alive.

Mr Murrin says this is a fallacy and that chefs dispatch these often disagreeable shellfish in this way "because it's easier".
Lobsters
Pot luck: Lobsters avoid the hot water

While debate rages over how much pain lobsters can actually feel, a study by Dr Dave Robb at Bristol University found the creatures took some 40 seconds to boil to death.

To ease the ordeal, Mr Robb developed the Crustastun, an electrical device to shock the animals insensible before meeting their fate.

There are many who would like to see lobsters avoid the hot pot all together.

International stars Pamela Anderson Lee, Brigitte Bardot and Mary Tyler Moore have all reported thrown their weight behind lobster liberation.

Sir Paul McCartney and his late wife, Linda, are also supposed to have spent thousands of pounds saving captive lobsters from the plate.


Veal

This light-coloured meat, taken from young calves, is by no means a staple of the British diet. But despite the controversy surrounding its production, it remains on the menu for some chefs.

Philip Lymbrey, from Compassion in World Farming, says calves reared on the Continent are fed an iron-deficient liquid diet and confined in small crates.
Calf
Crate expectations: Veal production set to change

"This keeps the flesh pale and that's what the gourmets demand. It's a system so cruel it has been banned in the UK since 1990."

Professor Jeff Wood, head of Bristol University's division of food animal science, has examined veal production techniques.

"We showed that calves didn't need to be kept in confinement stalls and that they could live in a space where they could express their normal behaviour."

All of Europe's veal farmers will have to follow the UK's lead by 2007. However, Mr Wood says improvements in livestock living conditions have cost implications for producers.

To make posh nosh more humane, it seems we may have to shell out even more for it.

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29 May 00 | Scotland
Duke's boycott over 'cruel' paté
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