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Last Updated: Friday, 16 September 2005, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Stein attacks 'cruel' hen farming
Battery Hens
British battery hen farmers say their practices are not cruel
Celebrity chef Rick Stein has criticised what he called "cruel" British battery farming methods.

In his BBC Two TV series French Odyssey he said force-feeding of ducks in France to make foie gras was no worse than keeping battery hens.

Mr Stein, from Padstow in Cornwall, said he enjoyed the French delicacy, but urged consumers to consider where their food came from.

UK egg farmers denied that battery hen farming was a cruel process.

They said the French and British practices could not be compared and foie gras production would not be allowed in the UK.

Battery Hens
I was shocked by what I saw, but all I am saying is 'Let's clean up our own back yard first'
Rick Stein

The practice of heavily feeding geese and ducks to swell their livers produces the smooth foie gras pate which sells for about 180 per kilo.

Referring to force-feeding of the ducks, Mr Stein said on Wednesday's programme: "It doesn't look too great having this funnel put down their throats and soft corn administered to them.

"I really like foie gras and I imagine there are much more cruel things to be seen in British farming."

Defending his stance on Friday, Mr Stein told Farming Today on BBC Radio 4: "I am not saying we should fail to disapprove about what the French are doing with their geese and ducks but maybe we should start not turning a blind eye to what goes on in our own farms.

"I think there are a lot of intensive farming practices in this country, and in France of course, that are more cruel than that."

Force feeding

He raised the issue of battery farming which he said denied animals "basic freedoms" leading to thirst, hunger, malnutrition and discomfort.

He said: "People who I have spoken to who have been to look at these hens in cages say there is no room to move, their legs can't support their weight and their legs have been burned by standing in excrement.

"These geese were force fed, but apart from that they led lives much as one would want geese to live."

He added: "I was shocked by what I saw, but all I am saying is 'Let's clean up our own back yard first'."

The British Egg Information Service said production of foie gras - which translates as "fatty liver" - would not be allowed under UK animal welfare laws.

It said battery cages were not cruel and welfare standards were being improved all the time.

Farmers' friend

Ian Johnson, of the National Farmers Union in the South West, defended Stein: "Farmers will always deliver what people want and as with foie gras, people can choose.

"Rick Stein is a friend of farmers and has done a lot in his programmes to promote British farming.

"For him to make one point should not outweigh the good work he has done as an ambassador for farming."

But campaigners People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals attacked Mr Stein.

Spokesman Sean Gifford said: "Pointing to one area of cruelty to justify another is ridiculous.

"Foie gras production is banned in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. There is no such thing as humanely produced foie gras."

What do you think - is Rick Stein right to say force-feeding of ducks in France is no worse than keeping battery hens?

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The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Battery farming is pure greed
Kevin, Dublin
Both practices are extremely cruel and should be stamped out. If Mr Stein thinks that one justifies the other, lets shut him in a cage and force feed him, then he'll know what both sets of animals have to endure.
P Raisey, Maidenhead, Berkshire

Rick is correct, the idea of anyone involved in the battery chicken industry complaining about the treatment of animals in other countries is astonishing. Battery farming is pure greed and has been partially created by our demand for cheap food, without wanting to know how its created. Turning a blind eye but in the long run our health will suffer along with the poor animals.
Kevin, Dublin, Ireland

I live near to Aylesbury and am therefore naturally fond of ducks! However, I agree with Rick Stein that foie gras production is no worse than battery chicken farming. And yet I know plenty who would forswear foie gras, and yet happily eat battery produced eggs. I think he's pointing out our double standards, and that usualy makes people uncomfortable. He's also raising awareness of the provenance of our food - if we had a better idea of how food stuffs are produced we would probably be much more selective in choosing what we are willing to eat.
Caroline Taylor, Aylesbury

As a life-long vegetarian, I would say desist in both practices. Both are horrendous. Eat meat if you must, but for treating animals inhumanely, there is no excuse. Compassion is the basis of all morality.
Laura, Maastricht, the Netherlands (from UK)

If people are against battery hen farming; they must vote with their wallets. Only buying free range eggs & chicken will stop battery hen production.
Anon, Brussels, Belgium

Any farming of livestock should be made as comfortable as possible. I do not agree with keeping hens in battery cages and I think force feeding geese is cruel. Just ask yourself, would you like it?
Gordon W. Cordier, Scotland

Rick Stein did not say force feeding ducks is no worse than battery hens. What he did say is before we go on about other countries animal welfare we should look at our own. I for one will never buy an egg that is not orgainc free range. But I would also never eat foie gras, and we turned the programme over when that feature came on.
John Wards, County Durham

Both involve considerable suffering. I think for the individual bird concerned, being force fed may be worse. However, the suffering caused by battery farming affects far more. I would like to see an end to both practices.
Michael Stevenson, London

Perhaps we could do with some useful 'reality tv' programmes, showing what it's really like to live as an intensively-reared animal on a UK farm
Susan, UK

I think he is correct. Simple as that. Battery hens live a horrible life and it is a cruel practice. Making foie gras is horrible and a cruel practice. Neither is done by farmers who love their animals, only by those who put earnings before ethics. Do not get me wrong, I am not an animal rights activist. I see nothing wrong in lab rats, for example. They serve a purpose, foie gras is not necessary.
George Holmer, Reading, Berkshire

We are designed to be omnivores but that does not mean we should just turn a blind eye to the way our food is produced. Perhaps we could do with some useful 'reality tv' programmes, showing what it's really like to live as an intensively-reared animal on a UK farm. If people knew how animals suffered, they might be willing to pay higher prices to allow farmers to give them a decent life. My supermarket has stopped selling organic and RSPCA Freedom meat, due to a lack of demand.
Susan, UK

Thank God for Rick Stein who is the only TV celebrity chef who is brave enough to speak the truth about the awfulness of factory farming. It is a cruel way to raise chickens and produce eggs and great efforts are made to dispel the truth about it by the industry. I disagree with the comments from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals as Rick Stein was not 'justifying' the method for foie gras production; he was simply pointing out that there are other cruel practices in the UK - thay should be supporting his views.
Doug McDougall, Sheffield

Yes, both practices are disgusting and in this day and age it should simply not be allowed.
Samantha Petersen, Newmarket, Suffolk, England.

He was only trying to justify his own desire to keep on eating foie gras
Christopher Singer, Guernsey

Yes, basically, he's right. We like to think we are oh so good in this country in looking after our farm animals but it can lead to a 'holier than thou' attitude to other nations. If you really think about force feeding ducks - that is pretty horrific, but then what about chickens suffering in battery cages? We must stop this attitude of believing that because it's Britain it must be ok - it's not ok.
Virginia Priem, Bristol, Avon

It's all very well for the NFU to say that people can choose whether to buy products or not. What about the hens? They have no choice and no life.
Andrew, UK

If he had been given time to think about what he was saying he might well have realised that he was only trying to justify his own desire to keep on eating foie gras. Yes battery farming of hens is cruel but so is production of foie gras. We should make our own decisions as to what is cruel and vote with our money. Mr Stein could stop eating foie gras and use only free range eggs if animal cruelty really mattered to him.
Christopher Singer, Guernsey

I don't actually see much difference between the two. One is force-fed, the other forced to stand in a space far too small. Both practices undeniably cruel. How anyone can possibly justify either is a mystery to me. I do find it ironic though - one provides some of the most expensive food in the world, the other is used to make food cheaper.
Adrienne, Manchester

Intolerance should be stamped out now! If folks don't want to eat eggs, or foie gras, or bananas, or whatever, then don't buy it. By all means educate the public as to how their food is produced, Rick Stein has certainly made an important contribution to this. But please don't let the anti-meat radicals make decisions for us all.
Michael Saunby, Okehampton, Devon

I'd be interested to know how many farms George Holmer has visited where fois gras is produced to justify his assertion about the farmers being interested only in money, rather than animal welfare. All food production - be it meat, eggs, milk, cheese, vegetables, cereals - takes place over a wide spectrum of intensity, from artisanal to vast agribusinesses. This includes both hens eggs and fois gras. The real problem is that too many people are not properly educated about food and make ill-informed choices based on price alone. Consumers therefore get exactly what they ask for.
Gordon, London

Anyone who has watched Rick Stein's television show will know that his love of food goes hand in hand with his obvious love for the animals involved. I think it is perfectly clear that Rick Stein made a valid point about British practices and was using some diplomacy in the way in which he discussed the French practice of producing foie gras. I certainly cannot imagine that he was condoning the production of foie gras. I think that we are privileged to have a 'TV chef' such as Rick Stein. Battery farming and other questionable practices are not what farming was ever supposed to be about.
Jasmine O'Brien, Surrey, UK




SEE ALSO:
Foie gras and battery hens debate
16 Sep 05 |  Cornwall
McCartney calls for foie gras ban
24 Sep 04 |  Entertainment


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