The horror behind foie gras

Tuesday 11th September 2012

By Marcus Papadopoulos, Publisher and Editor of Politics First

Britain has historically set a shining example to the rest of the world in pushing for animals to be regarded as sentient beings and not merely as commodities. In 1822, Britain was the first country in the world to introduce an animal welfare law and since then numerous other pieces of legislation have been passed which have enhanced the overall protection of animals in the country in particular the Hunting Act 2004 and the Animal Welfare Act 2007. From companion animals to wild animals to farmed animals to performing animals, Britain stands as a beacon of hope for the animal kingdom and is one of its most fervent protectors, putting it in line with the famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.”

It is surprising, therefore, that on the shelves and menus of a minority of retailers and restaurants in Britain, such as Fortnum & Mason and Harrods, is an item of food whose production constitutes one of the most shocking forms of animal cruelty in the world today: foie gras.

Foie gras is originally a French pate which is made from the enlarged livers of ducks and geese through force-feeding. This ‘delicacy’ is overwhelmingly produced in France. The birds, which are often kept in semi-darkness in crammed cages or small pens without adequate water, are force-fed several times a day for up to 21 days consecutively by a funnel straight into their oesophagus. The funnel is pushed five inches down the birds’ throats with up to four pounds of grain and fat being pumped into their stomachs. As a result of the force-feeding, the livers of the birds grow by up to ten times their normal size. The birds are then killed and their livers cut out and sold as foie gras.

The pain that ducks and geese experience on foie gras farms is unspeakable. Investigations carried out by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals found terrified birds barely able to move, had tumour-like lumps in their throats with the rest of their bodies covered in maggots and had severe damage to their throat muscles. Undercover footage obtained by PETA is extremely distressing and shocking even to seasoned animal welfare investigators.

Force-feeding of animals is banned in 15 countries, including Britain, Germany, Italy and Israel. However, importing foie gras and selling it is still legal in those countries (the state of California, however, this year set a historic precedent by banning the sale of foie gras in retail shops and restaurants).

In Britain, a country whose population is known for its compassion towards animals, PETA is spearheading a campaign for foie gras to be banned from shops and restaurants. And leading that campaign is the renowned and acclaimed English actor, playwright and director, Steven Berkoff.

Steven, famous for his roles in the Hollywood films Octopussy, Beverley Hills Cop, Rambo: First Blood Part II and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and for his long-standing involvement in theatre such as his acclaimed solo play Shakespeare’s Villains and his current play 6 Actors in Search of a Director, which he has written and directed, has long campaigned to eradicate all forms of cruelty to animals.
In this exclusive interview, Steven states why he is opposed to foie gras, how he is raising awareness of this issue, his attitude to people who consume and sell foie gras and the other animal issues which he campaigns on behalf of.

Q: Why are you opposed to foie gras?

A: I am opposed to any form of animal cruelty perpetuated for gourmandising. In fact, I am opposed to animal cruelty even to satisfy our needs but this is inevitable, unfortunately, given battery farming and the intensive use of all sorts of appalling practices like hormone fattening of calves and cows. Those are just some of the terrible inflictions human beings have perpetrated on the animal kingdom on the slim justification to survive. However, gourmandising is an atrocious form of cruelty to satisfy a jaded palate. So that is why I am against foie gras.

Q: What have you done to help raise awareness about the issue?

A: I make comments which are sometimes printed in the press and take part in PETA campaigns including against Fortnum & Mason, where we once demonstrated to the press outside the London shop, the ghastly feeding tubes used to enlarge the livers of ducks and geese.

Furthermore, I have written articles condemning experiments on animals for the furtherance and development of better medicines for the human race. I consider it appalling to inflict pain and suffering on animals just so that humans can have more time on this planet. Quite simply, I am outraged by the using and abusing of the animal kingdom.

Q: How did you first become involved in PETA’s campaign to highlight the cruelty involved in the production of foie gras?

A: It all began when PETA got in contact with me as a result of a letter which I had written to The Times about some form of animal cruelty. They asked me if I would help with their campaigns and I was only too delighted to do so. I have been involved with PETA for about five years now.

Q: What has been the response from family, friends and colleagues to your efforts?

A: The response from people who are aware of the cruelty behind foie gras, or what I call “torture in a tin”, has been 100 per cent supportive. And I am not surprised by that because 99 per cent of the human race has empathy for any living being which is abused or inflicted with pain under any circumstances. However, there is that one per cent of people who are, unfortunately, lacking in that gene of empathy.

Q: Why are you boycotting Fortnum & Mason specifically?

A: I am not boycotting Fortnum & Mason per se. I think Fortnum & Mason is an amazing establishment which I have been using for over half a century and a great credit to London café society but they would be far more respected if they would delete from their stock this most unpalatable item.

Q: What words do you have for people who consume foie gras, and also the retailers and restaurants who still currently sell it?

A: The people who consume foie gras are usually highly intelligent but seem to lack a gene of compassion. They are mostly uninformed and are so obsessed with satisfying their peculiar needs and tastes that they do not question how these tastes and flavours are produced. So they are wilfully ignorant about the suffering that is caused to satisfy their palates; regrettably, what we suffer from in this world is a total unawareness of what goes into the creation of our everyday products and we must be made aware of it.

The question, therefore, is how do we inform these people? People are very susceptible to information and this is what one has to do. Unfortunately, the older people get the more difficult it is to convince them.

Regarding retailers and restaurants who sell foie gras, they think they are doing the best for customers who would, incidentally, commit any pain, any suffering to enjoy one more mouthful of a gourmandising type of delicacy. Unfortunately, our French cousins, generally speaking, seem to be one of the worst offenders. Regrettably many people in France seem to perceive animals as only there to serve us. But we in Britain should be more aware of how shocking it is that Fortnum & Mason, for example, sell a product which is morally dubious. The fact that Fortnum & Mason align themselves with this unspeakable cruelty is part of the general commercialisation of everything in our society and I am sure that with decent and honest persuasion they would be induced to drop this product.

Fortnum & Mason are in what we call the “crime zone” in which people will sacrifice animals for a peculiar hunger. People like that have no empathy. And China is, of course, another major offender. Thirty-nine million sharks are needlessly slaughtered every year for some peculiar taste of fin soup in China. China is also the leading market for the peculiar need for ivory. It is absolutely disgusting. So it is not just Fortnum & Mason we are up against; we need to be campaigning worldwide.
We, in the West, are gradually leaving that filthy “crime zone” but there are still one or two left, and Fortnum & Mason should not be proud of themselves.

Q: Prestigious events, like the BAFTAs, and prominent department stores, such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, have already removed foie gras from their menus and food halls. Do you believe the days of foie gras are numbered?

A: I believe its end is very near. The more you campaign, the more pressure is put on outlets to stop selling it. However, legislation should also be passed to ban the import and sale of this “torture in a tin”.

Q: Can you detail the other animal issues which you campaign on.

A: For the benefits that we have achieved with animal testing, the suffering that has been perpetrated on millions of innocent creatures should be a cause of immense concern.

To me, anyone involved in animal testing belongs to the “crime zone”. It is a sin. To argue that it is done to save human lives is rather irrelevant given that animals are tortured to death for it. The genius if the medical profession is such that they are sure to find other ways to test products which are far more ethical than cutting open the brain of a live monkey.

I find it unpalatable the need of women to wear fur. When you see furs in a shop, such as Harrods, you do not think that an animal was once in this and that it was skinned to death for it. The prime cause of cruelty is the separation of the product from its source. I wish those women who wear furs would take an example from people like Stella McCartney who will never use fur in any of her fashion and because of this is far more inventive and inspiring.

Society should revere, protect and admire the living creature, rather than it’s dead coat being worn by grossly overpaid models.

People who do not object to animal cruelty do not function in the totality of human consciousness. Human beings are not dumb and with the proper information and access to images, be it still photography or video of the cruelty inflicted, will I am sure be persuaded to change their attitudes.