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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Haroon Siddique Legal correspondent

‘Torture in a tin’: Miriam Margolyes and others urge ban on foie gras imports

Female ducks bred for the production of foie gras
The letter describes foie gras, which is created by force-feeding ducks or geese, as ‘horrifically cruel’. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

Miriam Margolyes, Alesha Dixon, Mark Rylance and Jo Brand are among the famous names who have signed a letter to Rishi Sunak demanding an end to UK imports of foie gras.

The letter comes after it was reported that the government has dropped a proposed foie gras ban – not for the first time – with the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, suggesting it was not a priority.

British farmers are already prohibited from making the product, created by force-feeding ducks or geese, and outlawing imports was mooted in the government’s 2021 action plan for animal welfare. But dashing the hopes of campaigners, Coffey told the Telegraph that ministers had insufficient time to bring in legislation.

In response, the letter to the prime minister, also signed by Paul O’Grady, Diane Morgan and Dame Twiggy Lawson, says: “Permitting the importation of foie gras flies in the face of the values held by most Brits, who outright reject this ‘torture in a tin’ … The government has been ‘exploring’ a ban for years, and ministers stated in 2021 that such legislation would be introduced ‘in the next few months’. Yet here we are, in 2023, with no legislation in sight, while birds continue to suffer and die. We must end the UK’s complicity in this appalling trade.”

The letter was coordinated by Animal Equality UK and Peta, which have gathered more than 250,000 signatures in support of their campaigns to end the importation of foie gras made by force-feeding. A YouGov poll last year, commissioned by Animal Equality, found 81% of UK citizens surveyed were in support of a ban.

The letter, which also counts among its signatories Josh Widdicombe, Sian Clifford and Peter Egan, says the government should “follow the lead” of King Charles, who recently prohibited foie gras from being served in all royal residences.

It adds: “Not only is foie gras horrifically cruel, but in the midst of a cost of living crisis in which so many are concerned about how they will put food on the table, it’s out of touch and frankly grotesque that the government continues to defend the import and sale of a vile product that costs around £95 a tin.”

Bans on imports of foie gras and fur – which the government has also reportedly abandoned – were included in the animals abroad bill before being scrapped by No 10 last year. The U-turn came after complaints from some Tory ministers at the time, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is said to have argued that banning things is “un-Conservative”.

Abigail Penny, the executive director of Animal Equality UK, said the government was out of touch on the issue, adding: “If foie gras is too cruel to produce here, it should be too cruel to import too. Brits care deeply about protecting animals; this legislation must be made a priority.”

Last year, the luxury department store Fortnum & Mason stopped stocking foie gras, after a decade-long campaign by Peta. Tate Modern and top restaurants such as Skylon and Bluebird Chelsea are among others who have dropped the product.

Elisa Allen, Peta UK’s vice-president of programmes, said: “The vast majority of British people – including King Charles – reject foie gras. A ban on force-feeding animals to produce this ‘torture in a tin’ is already in place in the UK, and we now have an opportunity to keep it out of the country altogether.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and as set out in our action plan for animal welfare, we are committed to building a clear evidence base to inform future decisions on these issues.

“We are currently gathering information and speaking to a range of interested parties to help us do this.”

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