Force-feeding in foie gras production: GAIA launches legal action against the Walloon Region
Brussels, 5 December 2023 – While the Brussels Region, Flanders, and the majority of EU countries have already banned the force-feeding of web-footed birds for the production of foie gras, the Walloon government continues to turn a blind eye to this unbelievably cruel practice. Faced with this long-standing political inertia, GAIA has decided to take the Walloon Region to court.
Around 25,000 web-footed birds are force-fed each year by the seven Walloon foie gras producers still in operation. The legislation governing this practice has changed very little since the adoption of the 1986 law on the protection and welfare of animals. This outdated law has remained completely unchanged since 2014, when animal welfare became a regional responsibility.
"For nine years now, the Walloon government, which is responsible for animal welfare, has stood by idly in the face of force-feeding, while scientific knowledge confirms the enormous suffering inflicted by this practice" , explains Michel Vandenbosch, President of GAIA.
No research on alternatives to force feeding
The Walloon government's inaction on force-feeding goes against the 1999 recommendations of the Council of Europe, which stated that countries authorising foie gras production should encourage ’studies on welfare aspects and research into alternative methods not involving force-feeding’. Indeed, to date, Wallonia has neither carried out nor funded research into alternatives to force-feeding.
Regulations in conflict with European requirements
Furthermore, Walloon regulations permit force-feeding in contravention of European Directive 98/58/EC, which specifies that no animal ’shall be provided with food or liquid in a manner...which may cause unnecessary suffering or injury’. Twenty-five years after the adoption of this directive by the European Union, the Walloon government has yet to transpose it into its own legislation even though it had pledged to support and take ‘initiatives to harmonise European standards towards a higher standard of animal protection’.
In December 2022, an official petition calling for a ban on force-feeding was launched by GAIA, UWPA (Union Wallonne pour la Protection des Animaux) and FéFRACAF (Fédération des Refuges Francophones Agréés pour Chevaux et Animaux de Ferme). To be heard by the Walloon Parliament, there was a requirement to obtain 1,000 signatures. In the end, 6,650 signatures were handed in. Despite the fact that our petition complied with the official procedure and, after hearing from the President of GAIA in the Animal Welfare Committee, the Walloon Parliament took no further action.
Subpoena as last option
Faced with this long-standing political inertia, GAIA has decided to take the Walloon Region to court. A bailiff, acting at GAIA’s request, served a summons on the Walloon Region ‘represented by its government, in the person of its Minister-President, to appear before the Chamber of the Civil Section of the French-speaking Court of First Instance of Brussels. Indeed, we believe that the Walloon Region has failed to honour its commitments, formally set out in its Animal Welfare Code, namely to pursue a policy aimed at ensuring the protection and welfare of animals, taking account of their needs and sensitivities and combating abuse.
Michel Vandenbosch explains: “In light of the Walloon Animal Welfare Code, GAIA and the public have a legitimate right to expect the Walloon Region to take action to protect geese and ducks that are victims of force-feeding. By failing to honour the commitments it set itself in the Walloon Animal Welfare Code, the Region is therefore violating the principle of legitimate expectations. Its inaction is detrimental to the animal welfare. Today, we see we see legal action against the Walloon government as the one and only way of forcing the Walloon Region to revise the legislation governing force-feeding in line with European legislation and scientific knowledge”.
Marc Uyttendaele, GAIA's counsel, points out that case law on public authority liability allows for a judgment against public authorities to be obtained when they wrongfully fail to regulate a matter, which is what will be upheld in this case.
- Michel Vandenbosch, President of GAIA: 0475 45 20 15
- Marc Uyttendaele, GAIA's counsel: 02 548 97 96