French duck seeks foie gras 'asylum' in US state

California bans controversial delicacy

Anti-foie gras activists paraded a cartoon duck outside the US embassy in Paris on Thursday in a spoof bid to claim asylum for the bird in the wake of California's ban on the controversial delicacy.

The L214 animal rights group staged the stunt to voice support for the ban on selling or producing foie gras -- fatty liver made by force-feeding ducks or geese with grain -- which came into force on July 1 after years of wrangling.

"We want to say bravo to California, shame on France, and thank you for all the ducks that have been spared," said Johanne Mielcarek, spokeswoman for the half-dozen activists present, one sporting a giant duck costume.

"Ducks are now protected in California, so our poor French duck has come to ask for symbolic asylum," Mielcarek said.

"We want to show that in France too, people are against force-feeding," she added, citing a 2009 study suggesting that 63.2 percent of French people consider the practice to be harmful and that 43.9 per cent would like to see it banned.

French producers of the prized foodstuff, a southwestern speciality and a staple of Christmas and New Year festivities, say efforts to ban it are based on a misunderstanding of the force-feeding process, which they insist is not cruel.

They argue that force-feeding -- via a funnel inserted into the birds' throats -- mimicks the natural process of stocking up on food before migrating and stress it is only practised for a dozen days right at the end of their life.

France's foie gras industry body, CIFOG, claims California's ban breaches international trade law and is lobbying the French government for support.

L214 retorts that of the 34 million ducks raised for foie gras production in France each year, the majority on industrial farms, one million die of infections and lesions to their engorged liver.

"Force-feeding really is one of the most harmful practices that exist towards animals," said Mielcarek. "And its precisely because foie gras is so symbolic in France that we need to combat it."

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