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French foie gras producer acquitted in animal cruelty trial

Force-fed bird in cage.
Force-fed bird in cage. Animal rights group L214

A French foie gras producer has been discharged following a trial over "extreme cruelty to animals" at a court in western France.

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The foie gras producer Ernest Soulard was supplying top chefs such as France's Joel Robuchon and Britain's Gordon Ramsay with foie gras, when the animal rights group L214 launched the prosecution early in 2014 - making it the first such case to be tried in France.

The animal rights group published a video in 2013 in which ducks are seen blocked in individual cages, unable to move, while others appear to be dying.

Following the broadcast, both Robuchon and Ramsay decided to stop buying foie gras from Ernest Soulard's company.

Soulard could have faced a fine and a prison sentence if found guilty although the company claimed the video was distorted and misleading.

During the previous hearings, the debate turned into a battle of experts over the practice of force-feeding birds which is legal in France despite a 1998 European directive over farm animal welfare ratified by France.

From December 2015, the use of individual cages will also be banned in the EU.

On 22 January, the prosecutor asked the court to drop the charges against Soulard arguing that there was no police investigation done over the case and that the animal rights group was using the case to try the practice of force-feeding in general.

A guilty verdict could have opened the way for further prosecutions, at a time when France recently updated its laws on animal feelings and updated their status from "goods or furnitures" that can be owned to "living, sentient beings". 

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