My Interview With Times Radio
Last Friday, Times Radio invited me to interview alongside William Sitwell, a Telegraph Restaurant Critic and MasterChef Judge, on the sale and importation of foie gras made by force-feeding in the UK. I enjoyed the discussion and the opportunity to speak out on behalf of the millions of ducks and geese who suffer severely every year for this cruel product. I hope you enjoy it too!
Animal Equality UK
Here is the full audio clip and below is an overview of the arguments I put forward, and a full transcription of the debate.
My Take On The Interview
The production of foie gras through the cruel method of force-feeding ducks and geese is undeniably cruel.
Scientific evidence, as presented by renowned academics like Professor Donald Broom from the University of Cambridge, has clearly demonstrated the excruciating physical and psychological pain inflicted on these birds. This alone should be sufficient grounds for a resolute ban on the importation of foie gras.
Regrettably, this is not the reality we face. The UK Government has been stalling on a ban for years: it’s time they heard our message and banned the sale and importation of this vile ‘delicacy’.
In the interview, I put forth the most compelling arguments in favour of the ban, within the limited time-frame given.
There is tremendous public backing
- A YouGov poll commissioned by Animal Equality showed that 86% of people were in favour of a ban (excluding the ‘don’t know’ responses).
- There are nearly 300,000 signatures on Animal Equality’s petition supporting our campaign.
- It’s been illegal to produce in the UK for over a decade, due to the extreme and undeniable cruelty involved, yet we hypocritically continue to import it. If it’s too cruel to produce, it should be too cruel to import.
- Personal choice as an argument against banning the import of foie gras is not a strong one. Would we think that it was an acceptable personal choice to allow for people to eat cat or dog meat, for example? I don’t think so. And therefore, what’s the difference between this and the birds that are suffering for foie gras?
Abundant Plant-Based Alternatives
- For those who do want to consume the product, there are several delicious plant-based cruelty-free options like faux gras being offered by Michelin-starred London chef, Alexis Gauthier.
Aasmah Mir: We’re going to talk about an issue for the next five minutes or so that has long divided opinion. Do you see foie gras as a delicacy or ethically unpalatable? The French delicacy is produced by the force-feeding of ducks and geese to increase the fat in their liver. It is against the law to produce it in the UK, but 200 tonnes of the product are shipped in yearly. Now a YouGov poll commissioned by Animal Equality UK found that 86% of people don’t want the parfait crossing our borders.
We’re going to discuss this now with the Executive Director of Animal Equality UK, Abigail Penny. Hi Abigail.
Abigail Penny: Hi
Aasmah Mir: We can also speak to the restaurant critic for the Telegraph and MasterChef Judge William Sitwell. Hi William.
William Sitwell: Hi there, hi
Aasmah Mir: Abigail, let me start with you then, because Animal Equality UK, your organisation, commissioned this report, and I presume you think that 86% of people saying they don’t want foie gras being shipped in? That’s a kind of, I don’t know, case closed.
Abigail Penny: Well, yes, exactly that. I suppose ultimately the reason that our politicians and Government exist is so that they can stand up for what their constituents are asking for.
So, this YouGov poll showed that 86% of people were in favour of a ban. We’ve been working on this issue since 2017 and we found that we’ve already had nearly 300,000 signatures in support of the campaign. So clearly this is something that the public is interested in banning.
We also know, as you mentioned yourself, that there is hypocrisy in the law because there’s no consistency when it comes to this ban. We know that it’s already banned in terms of production under animal cruelty grounds in the UK. The public has already made it very clear that they do not support force-feeding of ducks and geese. And yet we’re hypocritically importing 200 tonnes of the stuff into the UK every year and it ultimately puts those businesses who have not made that ethical stance in banning it from their menus at a business advantage, which is incredibly unfair to those other businesses that have listened to what the public wants and has banned it.
Aasmah Mir: Okay, William, I know you don’t want any kind of ban, but on that point of hypocrisy, how would you answer that – if something is already banned in this country on the grounds of animal cruelty, then how come it’s okay for it still to come in?
William Sitwell: Well, I think, you know, it’s up to the individual to make the choice. I mean, you know, if there is a ban, a proper ban that can be enforceable, it’s enforceable by law. If our representatives and Members of Parliament have decided that we mustn’t eat it, then you adhere to that. If you can operate within the law, you can serve foie gras, buy foie gras, and you can in a number of retailers, if it tickles your taste buds, if it’s a delicacy that you think you have every right to enjoy, then I don’t see the problem with it.
Aasmah Mir: But what about the hypocrisy point? Because the point you’re making is a slightly different one, but, you know, just as interesting. But is there hypocrisy here? If you say, well, we think it’s cruel in this country, so we won’t create it in this country. We won’t have it in this country. But for people who want it, we’ll still let it come in. Isn’t there a little bit of hypocrisy involved in that position?
William Sitwell: There is a huge amount of hypocrisy involved when it comes to food constantly. People preach one thing and do another. People who claim they care about the land buy fast food. You know, I think the whole of the food and drink industry is troubling in all sorts of ways. There’s wonderful producers. There are non-ethical producers around the world. But I think that consumers actively engage in hypocrisy on a daily basis. You know, I think it’s part of our sort of retail landscape.
I mean, I often wonder, it’s a different subject:
Why don’t Just Stop Oil, stop Lego? Why don’t they stop people from creating little bits of plastic that I have to tread on with my kids when they leave them out, that shouldn’t be banned because I hurt my toes, but because they’re the most appalling pollution on the planet.
So we have hypocrisy as a sort of vain, you know, in our daily lives. So I kind of think that that’s a sort of moot point.
There’s also an argument, of course, about how cruel really foie gras is. I mean, I was reading a wonderful book from 1974 written by Richard Olney – Simple French Food, and I remember talking to Marco Pierre White. He said, if you’re worried about foie gras, watch the ducks and the geese, the way they gather around the farmer, you know, greedily anticipating the extra grain and Olney wrote having gone to a particular farm in France – ‘One sensed vividly the goose’s culinary participation, actively sharing in the orgasmic beauty of the sublime moment to which a life would be lived.’ Right, so you know, there’s two sides to this story.
Aasmah Mir: I’m sure. But William, I’ll come to you in a second, Abigail, I suppose the point about that is that you know that there are many people who let’s talk about human beings who overeat and who may get very excited about, you know, a huge meal in front of them, but they are probably going to be in a lot of discomfort and they are going to create medical problems for themselves in the long run.
William Sitwell: But half the hospitality industry is there for theatrical reasons, not just to feed people because they’re hungry. You know, you don’t go out because you’re hungry. You go out for a whole lot of different reasons. Actually, the need to be fed comes right down. You know, it’s not one of the main reasons you go out. It’s one of the least reasons why you go out. So I eat out as a restaurant critic, I eat out far too often. It makes me sick. I can’t really cope with it. I do it for a job. But I also understand that there is a pleasure in it, but the pleasure of eating is the communing of people. It’s the absorption of the atmosphere. It’s the mixing of food and drink. It’s the heady feeling of enjoyment, the pleasure of alcohol, the pleasure of the flavour of food. So, you know, I think you can get very bogged down in the whys and wherefores and how food is processed, etc. But most people go out because they want to have fun, they want to have a good time and talk to their friends.
Aasmah Mir: Yeah, Abigail there was a lot to get into there. But I just want to go back to the initial point that William was making if you don’t mind, where he was saying that, actually, there’s a lot of hypocrisy in the food business and there are a lot of people who say, well, I wouldn’t want X, but then they do Y, which kind of actually contradicts what they’ve just said. So it may be that the 86% of people who have said in answer to poll and say, ‘Oh, we don’t want it in here’. But actually if it came to a ban, they might not necessarily support that.
Abigail Penny: Well, I think people are putting their money where their mouth is because they’ve already been boycotting this for a number of years. We are the smallest importer across all of Europe. We only bring in 200 tonnes, which still impacts a quarter of a million birds every year, but actually the majority are sold in airports, for example, for tourists to take away. So actually British people are not eating this. And I think it’s actually a very elitist attitude to take, considering that there are many people who are really desperately struggling in a cost of living crisis right now who couldn’t even afford this item. I think it’s evident that nobody is buying it. Nobody wants this stuff. And really, it’s just a small number of very wealthy people who are actually consuming it.
Aasmah Mir: And on that point, just finally, Abigail, that everyone eats in a different way. And you’re right about the cost of living, but there will always be rich people who like to eat fine food and soak up the atmosphere, and all those people will always exist. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what they do is at or wrong. They’re just not perhaps like you or me or whoever.
Abigail Penny: So I think there are a few parts to unpack here. The first is going back to what your other guest has mentioned. Actually, there is plenty of scientific evidence from leading academics like Professor Donald Broom at the University of Cambridge, who has already shown force feeding of ducks and geese is incredibly psychologically and physically painful for these birds. So I think that’s a bit of a void argument there. It’s certainly not a hill that I would want to die on. I also think in terms of personal choice, we should think about other bans that have been made in terms of imports. So would we think that it was an acceptable personal choice to allow for people to eat cat or dog meat, for example? I don’t think so. And therefore, what’s the difference between this and the birds that are suffering for foie gras? And then my final point would be that actually you can go to eat at restaurants that have Michelin starred chefs like Soho Gauthier, who has actually managed to transition his entire menu to a plant-based menu and use it …
William Sitwell: And it’s a dreadful restaurant. I ate there two weeks ago and it’s appalling…
Abigail Penny: I’ve been there and I think it’s delicious. But again, it’s personal…
William Sitwell: It’s one of the worst meals I’ve had this year…
Abigail Penny: Well, I don’t think that’s quite the point either way. I think the point here is that he used to serve a huge amount of foie gras. He’s managed to swap and still serve huge numbers of people. It’s actually incredibly difficult to get a reservation at his restaurant. And he is now known for serving plant-based foie gras instead. And that pleases huge numbers of people every day.
Aasmah Mir: Okay. I think both of you were heard. Hopefully, you both felt that your voices were heard. Very interesting, actually. You just heard there from Abigail Penny. She’s Executive Director of Animal Equality UK and the restaurant critic for the Telegraph and Master Chef Judge William Sitwell. Let us know what you think.
The case for prohibiting the importation of foie gras is unquestionably stronger than any opposing arguments. The counterarguments, evidently, are not persuasive ones: claiming that the consumption of foie gras is a personal choice, a matter of taste, or – against all scientific findings – does not cause pain to ducks and geese, are hypocritical and unfounded. The fact that Times Radio requested an interview – after our campaign reached front page news of The Times print paper – is a significant milestone. We remain focused and optimistic that our combined efforts will come to fruition soon: we will not stop until we finally ban this vile product for good.
How you can help ducks and geese
The good news is – you don’t have to wait for politicians to act. While you and I might not eat foie gras, there is cruelty in the entire animal agriculture system. Pigs have their tails cut off routinely, hens are struggling in crowded cages, and chickens are forced to grow so quickly that they suffer from heart attacks and lung problems. You can help animals right now by leaving them off our plate and replacing meat with delicious, plant-based alternatives.
Get your free plant-based cookbook today by signing up to Love Veg at the link below.