Israeli Court Rules Farmer May Continue Force-feeding Geese

Agriculture Ministry fears the Central District Court's acquittal of a farmer who had been convicted of cruelty to animals for force-feeding geese may remove the eight-year-old ban; Justice Minister Livni expresses support of ban.

The eight-year-old ban on force-feeding geese may expire as a result of a recent court decision, the Agriculture Ministry fears. The Central District Court overturned a lower-court ruling and acquitted a farmer who had been convicted of cruelty to animals for force-feeding geese.

The farmer, Ran Vahnun, claimed that his feeding method did not break the law, and District Court judges Avraham Tal, Zahva Bustan and Yehzkel Kienar ruled that the state had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the method indeed broke the law. Following his acquittal, Vahnun asked the Agriculture Ministry to issue him a permit to continue feeding his geese in this manner. Another individual has also applied for a permit.

The Agriculture Ministry has asked the State Prosecutor’s Office to submit a petition to the High Court of Justice, but the latter has not yet decided whether to do so.

“This District Court verdict is mistaken; it goes against the law as determined in a High Court ruling and sets an unnecessarily severe standard of proof of the factual component of offenses against the Cruelty to Animals Law, which may have serious and significant negative consequences on law enforcement in Israel,” the ministry said in a statement released Thursday.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni expressed support for the ban. "In the past," she remarked, "I led litigation to enact a ban on production of foi gras. I am barred from commenting on any specific court proceedings underway, but in principal, I do believe the ban should be left standing; it prevents the infliction of a huge amount of suffering on animals simply to satisfy human cravings."

Vahnun was indicted in 2007 after the Agriculture Ministry alleged that he had overfed his geese by force-feeding them to fatten their livers. He did so by using a machine that stuffs the food into their bodies using air pressure. The machine forces the food down a 12.5-cm hard plastic pipe that is inserted into the goose’s beak. Vahnun claims that the system he developed does not insert a long pipe into the goose’s throat, but rather a short pipe at the end of which are projections that prevent the pipe from entering the goose’s throat.

The Magistrate’s Court, upon seeing a film of the feeding, ruled that the geese were suffering and therefore convicted Vahnun on charges of cruelty to animals.

But the District Court ruled that the film footage was insufficient to prove cruelty and that state had not presented an expert opinion that provide proof beyond reasonable doubt of the cruelty and breaking the law. However, the court said: “This acquittal is not meant to legitimize the force-feeding of geese that is the subject of the appeal,” because it based its ruling on the fact that that the state had not met its burden of proof.

The Agriculture Ministry’s prosecutor, Jeries Ghantous, said in response that the verdict “brings back the force-feeding of geese in Israel.”

The attorney for the animal rights group Anonymous, Yossi Wolfson, said that while he believed the verdict was mistaken, it did not mean the ban on force feeding would be limited. He said Vahnun’s method had been presented to the High Court in a case in which the court determined “that there was no way to create fatty goose liver without cruelty to animals, and so the industry should be shut down.”

Alon Ron