I have read some information about foie gras controversy and have encountered this piece of information:

"Until new scientific evidence on alternative methods and their welfare aspects is available", the production of foie gras is prohibited by treaty except for "where it is current practice" among 35 countries bound by the Council of Europe's European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes.

And the current practice in France has been described in a following manner:

French law states that "Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.

My question is, why is tradition considered to be sufficient for an exemption to animal welfare laws? Also, is there a precedent in European law (this is to narrow the scope of the question a bit, but feel free to include precedents from any country) to this?

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    Hmm. Seems more like angry (rightly, don't get me wrong) incredulity (which I share) than a question. What kind of answer do you expect here?
    – Zanna
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 13:20
  • More of the incredulity than anger (anger just doesn't cut it for me anymore when it comes to treatment of animals by society). What I am looking for is an answer as to how can there be exceptions such as the one with foie gras if the legal system is set up in a way that should not allow these and whether I can have any faith at all in such a legal system when it comes to the protection of animal rights. If there are backdoors in this system, then fighting for animal rights is rather pointless and I will adapt my behaviour accordingly (eg. fight for something else and/or by other means). Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 13:29
  • Maybe ... because the current animal welfare system serves the interest of limitless carnism, not the other way around? Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 13:42
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    My guess is that they are following (not breaking) the law: i.e. when the law was written, for political reasons (e.g. lobbying by farmers and consumers, and/or e.g. the public's sympathies with tradition ... IOW political reasons) the politicians wrote the law such that it exempted the "protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France". I wrote an answer about laws in the States -- politics aren't the same in the States as in France, but I presume that too resulted from political pressures (votes, lobbying, campaign funding etc.).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 22:05
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    You can ask this question on StackExchange's Law website you might get an answer there faster. Additionally, you can ask a lawyer specialising in this area (this might be expensive) or ask/email your question to any animal welfare groups. In any case don't forget to post your findings in here. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 2:20

4 Answers 4


The question has a strong normative undertone. I believe the community agrees that foie gras production is cruel and should be outlawed, so I will not comment on the normative aspect of the question, i.e. whether local customs should count as reasonable exemptions from bans on animal cruelty. Instead I focus on the question why there is in fact such an exception.

First, it is not true (unfortunate as that may be) that the production of foie gras is universally acknowledged as bad. Otherwise France alone would not be able to export (not just produce) 4,560 tonnes in the single year of 2015.

Second, your first quote is a recommendation that was adopted by a standing committee of a convention under the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental organization. Article 20 of its Statute requires a unanimous vote for any of its recommendations to be adopted. In everyday practice, the Council operates by 'rough consensus' and does not always require unanimity. This is informal practice, however. Presumably, decision-making reverts to unanimity if a delegation has strong reservations. The dissenting delegation then has a veto over any decision.

I would be surprised if France did not threaten to exercise its veto over a wholesale ban of foie gras production. In fact, the use of a grandfather clause suggest exactly such a political compromise, as it allowed France a simple "opt-out" that didn't prevent the remaining countries from going ahead.



Basically, a nation-wide ban of anything is highly disruptive for local traditional business and it might be in the interest of governments to preserve traditional trade for economical and tourism reasons. One might compare it to baning of slave trade. I think we're at the cultural tipping for animal abuse that we were when the first countries started abolish slavery and that took a very long time to happen everywhere.

Precedents in Europe are, for instance bull fights. Even though animal abuse is a criminal offense, these shows are still practiced and protected (although being strongly disputed) as a traditional practice.

  • Do you have any sources to support that economics played a roll in the specific case of foie grais in the EU?
    – nloewen
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 12:53
  • @nloewen Just to clarify: The Council of Europe is not an EU body, unlike the European Council. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 17:19

I am glad this question was not closed. I will try to provide some justification (playing devil's advocate) for animal cruelty, outside of legal argumentation:

  • hedonist intrinsic value - eating foie gras can provide great pleasure
  • economical value - any country has some traditional things that it may use for promoting tourism. Foie gras is a one of these things.
  • political/economical - forbidding something is a tough decision within a liberal democracy because it costs the votes of those affected. Also, it also incurs the cost of enforcing it (someone has to check that people actually obey the new law)
  • traditional instrinsic value - according to this article, cultural/traditional heritage can be seen as having intrinsic value. Also, having intrinsic value implies high priority, so it is very hard to disregard "traditional values"

So, there are many factors that influence the decision of keeping/not keeping some practices that involve animal cruelty.

Fortunately, European Union tends to be against the practice of overfeeding the geese. EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Welfare concludes that "force feeding, as currently practised, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds.".

Also, several countries/regions already banned foie gras as indicated in here: India, Australia, Argentina, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Turkey and the UK.

Another interesting aspect is that foie gras can be obtained without overfeeding the birds (Eduardo Sousa).

Another relevant example is bullfighting:

In Spain, opposition to bullfighting is referred to as the antitaurino movement. Supporters of a ban on bullfighting remain a minority in Spain. About 30% of Spaniards actively follow bullfighting in Spain. Despite its slow decrease in popularity among younger generations, it remains a widespread cultural activity with millions of followers throughout the country.

This article dives into the details when it comes to bullfighting pros and cons. The table within the conclusion provides some insight into many aspects of the bullfighting:

  • Economy - The industry of bullfighting is worth $3.3 million and employs more than 10,000 people, BUT bullfighting is heavily subsidized by the government
  • Attendance - Only 10% of Spaniards support bullfighting.
  • Tourism - With bullfighting being banned in certain cities, it has affected the economy, BUT many people attend bullfights because they think if they do not, they are missing out on a piece of the experience. These people never come back and are often horrified by what happens during the fights.
  • Artistic Merit - Bullfighting is not a sport, but an art, BUT killing of an animal cannot possibly be considered an art.
  • Cultural - In 2010 bullfighting became a protected art form in Madrid. Bullfighting has been around for a very long time and is almost synonymous with the Spanish culture, BUT while it is important to preserve culture, there are certain traditions that need to be left behind in this modern era.
  • Environmental impact - The dehesas, which is where the bulls are raised for fighting, are protected areas of land that are home to other endangered animals that live in the area. Getting rid of bullfighting means these lands would end up being developed and these animals would lose their homes.

However, for those concerned with animal rights there is good news, as politics seems to favor their view:

The Paris Court of Appeals handed a victory to animal rights organizations in June by removing bullfighting from France's esteemed cultural heritage list.

The Spanish city of Valencia is considering adopting a style of bullfighting in which the bull is not killed by the matador in the ring.

Another example which also affects my native land (Romania) is Christmas pig killing.

  • Thank you for trying to answer my question. The problem I have with the reasons you mentioned is that were these sufficient reasons for making exceptions to law, they could be used for almost anything from marihuana, through drinking and smoking in public places to legal sexual trade/rape. If there really is such a backdoor in our legal system then, hell, it takes a couple of well-thought-out blows and the whole thing falls apart. <- This concerns the four reasons enlisted at the top, not the bullfighting ones. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 9:35
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    Yes, that is true. However, social acceptance plays an important role in these decisions. Unfortunately, animal cruelty is not yet seen as important (at least in most of the countries) as smoking (for example), because it does not seem to directly affect human beings which are regarded as "superior". As indicated at the end of my answer. there is clear shift towards the ban, but there is social inertia that cannot be easily ignored.
    – Alexei
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 9:42
  • Do you have any sources to support that the factors you mentioned played a roll in the specific case of foie grais in the EU?
    – nloewen
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 12:52

Such backdoors are not that uncommon, and not just about animal cruelty, in Canada for example, there were a few controversies where police officers were allowed to wear turbans instead of the regulation cap for cultural/traditional reasons or some people being allowed to have a ceremonial dagger at schools (a very tiny, non-sharp dagger) and so on.

Basically if the government doesn't care about the original law that much, they don't mind allowing people to circumvent it for cultural reasons, since those people feel a lot stronger about it then the government does. Most people eat meat and wear clothes made from animals so they at least tacitly accept animal cruelty in their lives, so it's not surprising that they are not willing to fight a determined lobby on something like foie gras...

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