Foie gras is a travesty for some, a delicacy for others. But for French lawmakers it is part of France's cultural heritage, to be protected like a great work of art.
Lower house deputies approved a draft law on Tuesday that declares foie gras "part of the cultural and gastronomic patrimony, protected in France."
The measure, an amendment to a sweeping bill to overall agricultural policy, was passed unanimously on Monday. The entire draft law passed 376-150 on Tuesday.
Animal protection groups, and even some governments, oppose the forced-feeding of ducks and geese needed to make the gourmet product that is a specialty of southwest France. The lawmakers did not shy away from telling it like it is, defining foie gras in the amendment as "the liver of a duck or a goose specially fattened by force-feeding."
"Foie gras is an emblematic element of our gastronomy and our culture," read an accompanying explanation of the amendment.
The move comes amid growing criticism of the method used to obtain foie gras _ stuffing the duck or goose for a 10-day period to fatten the liver and create the unctuous pate.
The Brigitte Bardot Foundation, which fights cruelty to animals, denounced the forced-feeding of fowl on Tuesday, calling it "veritable torture for geese and ducks." A foundation statement asked consumers to stop eating foie gras _ a mainstay of the French Christmas season. Lawmakers noted that France produces 83 percent of the world's foie gras _ and eats more than 90 percent of it.
The movement against foie gras is particularly notable in the United States. Some restaurants refuse to serve it, or make it available but keep it off the menu. The state of California will ban the force-feeding of ducks and geese to obtain foie gras by 2012. Sales of the product will be banned there in 2012 if the foie gras is obtained by force-feeding.
Laying out the amendment, French lawmakers acknowledged detractors but concluded that their concerns were untenable.
Research shows "in an incontestable way" that claims of cruelty are untrue, read the expose, which also concluded that "no natural alternatives exist."
Making the case for foie gras as a product deserving special protected status, the lawmakers concluded that the product "perfectly fulfills" criteria defining the national patrimony "and the link to terroir (or land) that characterizes the originality of the French food model."
Associated Press Writer Emmanuel Georges-Picot contributed to this report from Paris.