Le Roche-sur-Yon: A French court is set to rule Thursday on whether a foie gras producer was guilty of "acts of cruelty" for the conditions in which it force-fed its birds.
The case targets one of France`s best-known producers, Ernest Soulard, a company based in the western Vendee province which supplies top restaurants including Le Fouquet`s and George V in Paris.
It was brought by animal rights group L214, which released a video in 2013 showing the conditions at farms under contract to Ernest Soulard, with ducks confined in individual cages, barely able to move.
The video caused top chefs, including multi-Michelin-starred Joel Robuchon and Britain`s Gordon Ramsay, to suspend their orders with the company.
Force-feeding ducks to make foie gras is legal in France, but the European Union ruled in 2011 that birds cannot be kept in individual cages and gave farms until the end of 2015 to comply.
But Ernest Soulard has argued that the images were faked and did not all come from the company`s farms, and prosecutors have already said there is not enough evidence for a conviction.
"They don`t care about our company, this trial is just a way for them to get some donations," said Roland Tonarelli, director general of Ernest Soulard.
"We have turned the page with our clients, everyone is absolutely convinced that we are blameless," he added.
L214 has denied manipulating the video, saying it got the images from someone with access to the force-feeding areas and "simply edited them together".
"The objective of the association is to trigger public debate," said the lawyer for L214, Helene Thouy.
Force-feeding "is recognised by independent European experts as a cause of animal suffering. It would be a very good thing if, for the first time, a court punishes this practice," she added.
The hearings became an excuse to thrash out the long-standing debate over foie gras, which is made by force-feeding corn through a tube into ducks and geese, fattening them to around four times their natural body weight.