Animal-rights activists are incensed by the efforts of two ministers to alter a bill that would categorically ban the import of foie gras, claiming the changes the ministers are suggesting would make the bill meaningless. Foie gras is a liver delicacy that is made from geese and ducks that have been force fed.

Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said the changes were necessary to prevent economic damage that could result from broken trade agreements and to avoid retaliatory bans on kosher slaughter in Europe on grounds that such slaughter is cruel to animals.

They said Sunday that the bill would be altered so that there would be no prohibition on importing foie gras, only on trading in it. This would allow restaurants and hotels to import the liver product to serve their patrons, but would stop the import of large quantities for sale in supermarkets.

But members of the Anonymous and Let the Animals Live movements were critical of the Yisrael Beiteinu ministers, saying “the proposal to allow the serving of foie gras in restaurants empties the bill of all its meaning."

Last week, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill submitted by Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman that would ban the import of foie gras. The law has banned the force-feeding of fowl in Israel for a decade, but the liver product can still be imported.

Before the bill was to undergo its first reading last week, Shamir and Aharonovitch filed appeals against it, saying they wanted to reword it. The two ministers said their change would prevent damage to Israeli imports that would result from the violation of international trade agreements, and could result in sanctions by the European Union. The Agriculture Ministry said that some 15 tons of foie gras, worth around $7 million, is imported into Israel annually, primarily from Hungary.

Yaakov Poleg, the official responsible for international trade in the Agriculture Ministry, wrote in his professional opinion: “It’s not possible to estimate exactly what the EU response would be. But we can assume that Israel imposing a unilateral ban will lead the EU to ask for clarifications, at the first stage, and if the issue isn’t resolved, it’s possible there will be a similar response from the EU such that some agricultural product or another will be banned.”

Rabbi Yirmiyahu Menachem Kohen, head of the Paris Rabbinical Court, also weighed in, writing to Shamir about the possible ramifications of passing the law.
“As we know, the ears of many European nations are very responsive to ‘the greens’ whose main concern is to stop Jewish slaughter,” the rabbi wrote. “Imagine how it would look for Israel to be the first to ban the import of liver that was grown in violation of animals’ welfare. The proposers of this law are definitely providing our enemies with a double-edged sword.”

Kohen added that he had visited one of the large Hungarian facilities that stuff the geese and got the impression that it had developed a method that doesn’t cause great suffering to the fowl.

Attorney Yossi Wolfson of Let the Animals Live rejected the ministers’ arguments.
“The EU is leading the global trend against importing products out of concern for animal welfare, in the context of the fur industry and testing cosmetics, for example,” he said. “Moreover, most of the EU states forbid the force-feeding of water fowl, so it’s unreasonable that the EU would take steps against Israel if it bans the import of foie gras.”

As for Kohen’s letter from Paris, “By that logic we should just repeal the Animal Welfare Law, lest the gentiles use the fact that we favor animal welfare to ban kosher slaughter. That’s absurd.”

Meanwhile, Lipman, the initiator of the law, said he had never agreed to any changes to his bill. “If restaurants can still import it, that’s not acceptable to me, that’s just a game. The objective is an ethical one.”