Import of foie gras

Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 20th November 2018.

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“(1) Foie gras may not be imported into the UK.

(2) “Foie gras”, for the purposes of this section, shall mean a product derived from the liver of any goose or duck which has been force-fed for the purpose of enlarging its liver.”—

This new clause would prevent the import of foie gras into the UK.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This simple clause is designed to do what various Members have sought: to stop foie gras being sold in this country. I attended the recent debate initiated by, I think, Henry Smith , who referred to foie gras as

“cruel to produce, unhealthy to eat and expensive to purchase”. —[Official Report, 13 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 1050.]

It is about time that we banned this outdated practice. I am not going to go into how it is produced—the innards, and so on, particularly as the hon. Member for North Dorset has probably had a good lunch and I do not want to spoil that in any way—[Interruption.] I shouldn’t have said that, should I?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

It was a small slice of corned beef, some grated carrot and an apple today, if the hon. Gentleman is interested.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is always a mistake to lead with your chin, as they say. We will pass on from that very quickly.

The new clause covers something that, as far as I know, most MPs want to do. Hon. Members may say that it is somewhat incongruous to bring this forward with this Bill, but given that Agriculture Bills come round about every 50 years, we will not necessarily be around to see this carried through.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Assistant Whip

Speak for yourself!

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Some of us might be very old if we were around in 50 years. I hope this is treated seriously.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does the hon. Gentleman intend it to be an offence for individuals to purchase the product while on holiday or does he merely mean the commercial importation of this product?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Again, there are going to be commercial obligations, because the fact is that we are looking for a ban. As far as I know, both parties have talked about this quite openly. Certainly representatives of the parties have talked about it. We looked at it as regards the withdrawal agreement. From memory, and we will come on to live exports later, it is one of the things that certain people prayed in aid of the advantage of leaving the EU—that is, that we could bring about some of these animal welfare changes. It was a crucial argument. It was not quite as big an argument as the £350 million a week for the NHS, but it was nevertheless an argument.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

The hon. Gentleman mentions animal welfare. Is this an opportunity for Members on his side of the House to put animal rights views forward? Is this the place to be bringing this up?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Again, I make the point that we have limited opportunity to consider legislative change. As far as I know, the hon. Member for Crawley is hardly some animal rights activist who has been out on demonstrations to demand that this practice ends. He is a Conservative MP whose constituents have no doubt written to him saying that it is not something that they wish to condone.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I know where the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire is trying to come from. The fact is that we have already banned production in this country. All we are talking about is banning imports. We are not moving on to new radical territory. We are just trying to achieve a degree of consistency.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is the summation of the case. It is not something that we would say was anything other than a level playing field. Yes, we are stopping certain well-known establishments from selling foie gras.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Labour, Ipswich

If any one of the amendments proposed earlier today that were so fulsomely supported by the hon. Member for North Dorset had been carried, we would not have needed this amendment.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Of course, and that is something that we will no doubt have to revisit on Report. We are not doing anything other than what we have done in this place. We banned foie gras in the Houses of Parliament. That is a decision, and one might say that it is freedom of choice, but we banned the production of foie gras in this country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East said, because we see it as inherently cruel.

All we are saying is: “Let’s have a level playing field”. If we ban production here, why are we still allowing imports to a very small number of establishments that still condone something that we would put at the extremes of animal cruelty? It is not about animal rights; it is purely about animal cruelty. It is a terrible process and I am not going to upset the hon. Member for North Dorset by going through what is involved. I do not think anybody would say that is an acceptable way to treat livestock. If it is, why is it banned in this country?

I hope we will get support from the Government. This is one thing they could do, through legislation on animal sentencing or even animal sentience, whichever comes first. We do not have many opportunities to pass this type of legislation. It could be done by a private Member’s Bill but we know how uncertain that can be. That is why the proposal has been brought forward at this stage, and why we hope there is support. If not, the Government could at least say what their intentions are. This will not affect farmers in this country, because we have banned this practice. We just want a level playing field and we can now ensure that because we will not necessarily be part of the EEA.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This again highlights an important ethical issue, about which people in this country have strong views. However, in common with others, I do not think it fits in the Bill. This is not a trade Bill; it is an agriculture Bill about how we support agriculture and replace the common agricultural policy.

I do not think we have ever produced foie gras in this country. It has been illegal at least since the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 put it beyond doubt. There is no explicit ban on foie gras, in the way that there is on fur farming, which was introduced as a specific ban in Parliament, but it has always been understood that the production process involved in it, requiring as it does the force-feeding of ducks and geese, creates serious animal welfare concerns. If ever practised here, that would be in breach of our long-standing animal welfare legislation.

There is a small amount of production in some parts of the world, including France, of what is called “ethical foie gras”, where they use a particular breed of goose and do not force-feed them. They manage to get a product that is very similar to foie gras in a way that causes far less concern for the welfare of the animal.

Turning to the proposed new clause, the issue is important. If we leave the EU, depending on the nature of any agreement we have with the EU, a future Government would certainly be able to ban the import of foie gras. Some countries, notably India, do have ethical bans of this sort. India has one on fur and might already have one on foie gras.

We know that WTO case law means it is entirely in order to have bans on certain products of this sort, where there are ethical reasons to do so. There has been case law in the past regarding seal furs that has upheld that long-standing principle. It would be an option for a Government, depending on the nature of the agreement we finally have with the EU, to ban the import of foie gras, in much the same way as India does, but I do not believe the Bill is the right place for it.

It is the kind of thing that we would consider once we are clear about the type of trading relationship we will have with the EU and what concessions we might have to make as part of that settlement—until then we are not in a position to advance any policies of this sort.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hear what the Minister says but, given that the Bill looks to the future, it is entirely appropriate that we decide which animal welfare standards we believe should be in place to accommodate the type of agriculture and food chain we want. Although subject to whatever happens to our relationship with the EU, this is the sort of legislation, along with live exports, where we should draw a line in the sand. We do not accept this practice; we have banned it. It is inappropriate for agencies, shops and other retail establishments to be able to sell that product here. It is an entirely inappropriate method of force-feeding geese and ducks. This is a key animal welfare issue. It needs to be outlawed.

It is not just about what we do, but what we should expect our retail establishments to do as well. Dare I say that consumers have to recognise that if they buy this product they are investing in cruelty? It is the same with fur—sadly, we still have a problem with the importing of fur—but I will not go into that now; it is contingent on this issue, but is obviously not the same one.

If we really want good animal welfare standards, it is right and proper that we recognise that it is not just about what we do in terms of production, but what we expect consumers to do. The best way to do that, as we have done in a number of areas, is just to impose a ban.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Division number 26 Decision Time — Import of foie gras

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 25