By Jon Ironmonger

BBC News

Image source, L214

Image caption,

Animal rights groups say their footage shows several French welfare laws being broken

Animal rights groups have released footage of ducks in France being force-fed in a bid to persuade ministers not to drop plans to ban foie gras imports.

Activists say the covert filming, captured in December, shows “sickening” mistreatment and the violation of several French welfare laws.

The government says no decisions have yet been made.

Producers of foie gras use a process known as “gavage” to force-feed ducks or geese, causing their livers to swell.

Such farms are illegal in the UK but the product, typically a mousse or pate, is still sold in some restaurants.

But Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg is among several senior Tories to object to the move on the grounds of protecting personal choice.

In footage obtained by the animal rights organisation L214, ducks in crowded, wire-mesh crates are gripped by the necks and a feeding tube is forced down their throats.

The practice can cause internal bleeding and many of the ducks inside the cages appear to have died.

British animal charities say the farm is in breach of multiple welfare laws relating to space requirements and appropriate flooring.

Abigail Penny from Animal Equality said: “These terrified birds try frantically to escape but have nowhere to run.

“We can stop their suffering by banning imports of this vile product.”

France is the largest manufacturer of foie gras.

The BBC understands a proposed ban on imports to the UK – part of the draft Animals Abroad Bill – is to be scrapped.

The BBC has been told that Mr Rees-Mogg believes restrictions should not be imposed on consumers.

He has also argued the ban would have no impact on animal welfare in the UK.

Connor Jackson, from animal welfare organisation Open Cages, called on Mr Rees-Mogg “to sit down and view these images”.

“On this farm and others like it, there is a clear lack of interest in animal welfare.

“If the British government betrays these animals, millions of people will never forget it,” he said.

Mr Rees-Mogg did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.

A government spokesperson said it was committed to “upholding standards in animal welfare”.

“Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare sets out the government’s vision to introduce world-leading reforms to improve animal welfare and the conservation of animals”.