Lower house deputies approved a draft law on Tuesday that declares foie gras "part of the cultural and gastronomic patrimony, protected in France".

The measure is part of a sweeping bill on overall agricultural policy. The bill passed 376-150 in a first reading and now goes to the Senate.

However, there were no naysayers for the amendment to raise foie gras to the realm of French cultural heritage. It was passed unanimously on Monday before the entire draft law was voted.

Animal-protection groups, and even some governments, oppose the forced-feeding of ducks and geese needed to make the gourmet product that is a specialty of southwest France.

Specially fattened

The lawmakers did not shy away from telling it like it is, defining foie gras in the amendment as "the liver of a duck or a goose specially fattened by force-feeding."

"Foie gras is an emblematic element of our gastronomy and our culture," read an accompanying explanation of the amendment.

Foie gras has been declared part
of French gastronomic patrimony

The move comes amid growing criticism of the method used to obtain foie gras - stuffing the duck or goose for a 10-day period to fatten the liver and create the unctuous pate.

The Brigitte Bardot Foundation that fights cruelty to animals denounced the forced-feeding of fowl on Tuesday, calling it "veritable torture for geese and ducks".

A foundation statement asked consumers to stop eating foie gras - a mainstay of the French Christmas season. Lawmakers noted that France produces 83% of the world's foie gras - and eats more than 90% of it.

The movement against foie gras is particularly notable in the US. Some restaurants refuse to serve it, or make it available but keep it off the menu.

California ban

The state of California will ban the force-feeding of ducks and geese to obtain foie gras by 2012. Sales of the product will be banned there in 2012 if the foie gras is obtained by force-feeding.

Laying out the amendment, French lawmakers gave a nod to detractors but concluded that their concerns were untenable.

The production of foie gras is a "veritable torture for geese and ducks"

The Brigitte Bardot Foundation

Research shows "in an incontestable way" that claims of cruelty are untrue, read the expose.

The storing of fat in the liver of force-fed fowl "is not possible with stress or suffering of the animal", it said, calling the fattened liver a "reversible phenomenon" and not a "hepatic lesion". In any event, "no natural alternatives exist".

Making the case for foie gras as a product deserving special protected status, the lawmakers concluded that the product "perfectly fulfils" criteria defining the national patrimony "and the link to terroir (or land) that characterises the originality of the French food model".