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Fortnum & Mason's Moral Imperative: Stop the Sale of Foie Gras

06/06/2013 17:40 BST | Updated 06/08/2013 10:12 BST

Like any lawyer, I can attest to the fact that legality is no guarantee of morality. In other words, just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should. Certainly, this principle holds true for Piccadilly grocer Fortnum & Mason, which, as I recently learned, is one of the only British retailers still to sell cruelly produced foie gras, despite the public outcry against this vile product.

Foie gras is the enlarged, diseased liver of ducks and geese. In order to get the liver to expand to up to 10 times its natural size, the birds must be force-fed in a procedure known as gavage, in which a long metal pipe is rammed down their throat up to three times a day for several weeks until their liver becomes so large that it takes up the vast majority of their body cavity.

The whole force-feeding process is so cruel that it is rightly illegal in the UK under The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007. Foie gras production is also banned in the EU under Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes, although France is one of five countries that have been allowed an exemption, much to the outrage of compassionate French people, such as screen legend Brigitte Bardot, who recently ruffled feathers when she called Fortnum & Mason Managing Director Ewan Venters an "imbecile" for continuing to sell foie gras. According to an Ipsos MORI survey, nearly two-thirds of Britons want to see an outright ban on the sale of foie gras in this country. And although logic tells us that a product which is illegal to produce should also be illegal to sell, the law remains illogical.

Without a shadow of a doubt, foie gras production is one of the cruellest of all the very many cruel things done to animals on today's factory farms - and foie gras is one of very few products made by intentionally inflicting disease on animals. A recent PETA investigation documented horrific cruelty at French facilities that supply foie gras to Fortnum. In addition to the inhumane production practices described above, geese were also filmed at the abattoir as they blinked, kicked and tried to lift their heads for several minutes after a knife had been plunged into their throats without any prior stunning, which is against both French and UK law.

Fortnum unfathomably holds two royal warrants, for Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Holding Royal Warrants should be an immense privilege, and they should be bestowed only on establishments with extremely high standards. They shouldn't be bestowed on businesses that sell a product that is illegal to produce in Great Britain or on a company that makes unsubstantiated animal welfare claims. (In 2011, the Westminster Trading Standards forced Fortnum to stop making misleading statements about its foie gras.)

A company spokesperson has offered the tepid defence that the department store is a "traditional retailer" that sells "traditional foods". However, its traditional heritage - its quintessential Britishness - is precisely why it must stop selling this most un-British product without delay. It would not be alone, as just about everyone, including every major animal welfare group and scientists are united in opposition to foie gras. Retailers Selfridges, House of Fraser, Jenners and Harvey Nichols have all stopped selling it, and Prince Charles and both Houses of Parliament have banished it from their menus.

The day is near when foie gras will be impossible to obtain in this country, and it can't come soon enough. But until then, stores such as Fortnum & Mason should simply remove it from their shelves - not because the law requires it but because it's the right thing to do.