Earlier this month, the Palace officially announced that foie gras is no longer served at any of the royal residences.
King Charles’ household wrote a letter to animal rights organization PETA, confirming that there is a ban on the “food” across Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham, Balmoral, and all other royal locations.
Foie gras is pâté made from the liver of a goose or duck. It’s long been controversial, due to its grisly – and very well-publicized – production method. Birds are force-fed using a process called “gavage.” This sees workers shove a tube down their throat twice a day and pour grain and fat into their stomachs. This enlarges their liver, giving foie gras its famous appearance and taste.
There is no excuse for anyone to eat foie gras. And, there’s no doubt that King Charles’ move to ban it should be celebrated. His decision was reportedly made due to the fact that he, like most of the public, accepts the cruelty inherent in this abomination of an industry.
But it’s disappointing that he hasn’t extended this acceptance to other animal products, many of which he’s actively endorsed. He is a patron of the Speciality Cheesemakers Association, and has been open about the fact that he eats meat and counts eggs among his favorite foods. So why does he recognize that geese suffer, but not the animals exploited for the food on his plate?
King Charles should look closer to home
It’s very easy for King Charles to ban foie gras. It’s a foreign import, meaning banning it isn’t an attack on the British farming he’s linked to. Production of it has been illegal in the UK since 2006. There are no foie gras farms here, and it’s extremely unlikely there ever will be any.
The UK currently imports around 200 tonnes of foie gras annually. But there have been repeated calls to ban it entirely. This media has this year been rife with criticisms of the government’s u-turn on its promise to do so, and an Animal Equality petition to stamp down on it currently has over 275,000 signatures.
This outrage directed at foie gras is reflective of a country that has a tendency to criticize animal cruelty in other lands while ignoring instances in its own. We see it with the Yulin dog meat festival, we see it with fur farming, and we see it with foie gras.
The UK loves to tell itself it has the best welfare in the world. The Conservative government even publicly endorsed this line of thought last year. This attitude has led many people to think foreign foie gras is an anomalously cruel food here, while British animal products – whose cruelty is considerably less well-publicized – get a free pass.
An easy target
King Charles’ decision to ban foie gras was very likely made – at least partly – in reflection of this public opinion.
It’s not surprising that the public is happy to slam foie gras. As well as being imported, it’s niche, expensive, and the vast majority have never – and would never – come across it. It’s less easy to criticize chicken, sausages, and cheese, which are almost always made from animals who suffered horrific lives and deaths, but are for most people an integral part of their lives.
But doesn’t King Charles only eat from the “best” farms? While we don’t know exactly what brands he buys, there is very likely some truth to this. He has supported small farms, and endorsed organic produce. He has also been vocal in his distaste of factory farming, critiquing its “mechanistic thinking” in 2010.
According to reports, King Charles’ daily diet is meat, dairy, and egg-heavy (he apparently eats a boiled egg with every meal). Clarence House confirmed on Instagram in 2020 that his favorite food is “cheesy baked eggs.” The King, who was then the Prince of Wales, encouraged his followers to support British cheese makers and make the same recipe. The post even described our nation’s cheese as “one of the most wonderful joys in life.”
The reality of British farming
Even at the best possible farms, there is nothing wonderful or joyful about the cheese industry. Dairy cows have been selectively bred to produce more milk than they naturally would. This means they often suffer from mastitis and spend their lives in pain.
Cows will be forcibly impregnated once a year, and each time have their baby taken away hours after birth. The calf will be put in solitary confinement and fed on a milk replacer, and they will never see each other again. If the calf is female, she will suffer the same fate as her mother. If he is male, he will be shot or sold to the veal industry. Dairy cows also end up at the slaughterhouse, where they are stunned – often improperly – and have their throats cut.
In the egg industry, male chicks are routinely gassed to death because they’re surplus to requirements. Modern egg-laying hens have been selectively bred to produce around 300 eggs a year, as opposed to the 12 they naturally would. This takes a huge toll on their bodies. And they will often suffer from osteoporosis and broken bones as a result. They also end up at the slaughterhouse. The majority will be gassed to death, while the rest will be stunned and have their throats cut. Improper stunning is rife within the industry, meaning many are fully conscious when they are plunged into defeathering scalding tanks. They therefore drown in extremely hot water.
It is arguable, of course, that the foie gras industry is “worse” than the dairy and egg industries. Foie gras production may seem more shocking and violent to some – but whether or not one is “crueler” than the other is not the conversation we should be having. We should be talking about the fact that they are all horrific, all unacceptable, and all equally deserving of being banned.
King Charles has set a wonderful example by banning foie gras, and it’s hopeful that it will lead to further crackdowns on this horrific industry. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that one of the most recognizable figures in the world continues to eat, publicly endorse, and actively encourage his fans to buy other cruel animal products. None of this should be eclipsed by a PR-friendly crackdown on just one. If King Charles really wants to fight against cruel foods, he should look at those on his plate.