Foie gras has been served in one form or another at the banquets of the pharaohs and the court of Louis XIV.
But present-day fans are losing the battle to keep foie gras on the menu in Britain, after years of campaigning by opponents appalled at its production by force-feeding ducks and geese.
The latest attack comes from a cross-party group of MPs who have written to ministers urging them to make good on a pledge to ban sales of foie gras in the UK.
MPs from all political parties in Great Britain have signed the letter, coordinated by the campaign group Animal Equality, to George Eustice, the environment secretary, and Lord Goldsmith, the animal welfare minister.
This month, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that it was “exploring further restrictions” to the delicacy following reports that Lord Goldsmith was determined to ban sales in the UK.
It came after Fortnum & Mason finally decided to stop stocking foie gras after more than a decade of lobbying by animal welfare groups, celebrities and, in 2013, Lord Goldsmith as the then editor of the Ecologist.
“Although we are thrilled to see this recent development, the longer we wait, the more these animals will suffer. Over the coming months, thousands more ducks and geese will endure torturous treatment for this cruel product,” the letter states. “We … urge you to confirm specifically when and how you plan to write this legislation into law.”
Foie gras is made by force-feeding ducks or geese, a process known as gavage, where grain is poured into a funnel or tube that has been thrust down the bird’s neck. After two weeks, the liver has swollen to many times its normal size.
Foie gras gourmands enjoy the liver’s resulting buttery texture. Campaigners say the process is barbaric and painful for the birds, who experience great suffering.
Two figures who back the letter will be familiar to Lord Goldsmith: Conservative MPs Sir David Amess and Henry Smith, who, like the minister and the prime minister’s fiancee Carrie Symonds, are patrons of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.
Other MPs signing the letter are Labour’s Hilary Benn, the SNP’s Lisa Cameron, Lib Dem Wera Hobhouse, Ben Lake of Plaid Cymru, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Jim Shannon of the DUP.
Abigail Penny, executive director of Animal Equality UK, said: “It’s a travesty that these birds are confined in filthy cages and painfully force-fed until their livers become diseased. Their brief existence makes for a real-life horror film.
“Foie gras is the definition of animal cruelty and people are clearly united in their hatred for this wicked product. We simply cannot tolerate this any longer. A ban can’t come soon enough.”
Cameron said: “Foie gras is an immensely cruel product which causes a huge amount of animal suffering. We cannot rightly think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers while still selling foie gras.”
British farmers have been forbidden from producing foie gras under animal welfare legislation since 2006, but the UK continues to import the product.
An outright ban was impossible under EU single-market rules, even though countries within the bloc have been able to restrict sales of some foods – Marmite cannot be marketed in Denmark without permission since it is considered to be a fortified food.