A PETITION to ban the sale of the delicacy foie gras in the UK has passed 5,000 signatures.

The campaign was launched by York councillor Paul Blanchard in January when he asked fellow councillors to back a motion banning the sale of the food from the city's shops and restaurants. That failed, but a petition set up on the Downing Street website at the beginning of March has now attracted 5,132 signatures.

Coun Blanchard said: "I think it's absolutely amazing news. We're already in the top 15 of the petitions on the website.

"I'm very grateful for the amount of support received but, on the other hand, if we do want to ban foie gras we need a lot more signatures."

In the next couple of weeks, those signatures may be forthcoming.

Coun Blanchard revealed that, as the RSPCA has endorsed the campaign, the animal welfare charity is to contact 65,000 people who have signed up to its emailed news service asking them to log on to the Downing Street website and add their names to the campaign.

Dr Marc Cooper, a senior scientific officer at the RSPCA, said: "The RSPCA is opposed to the production of foie gras, whereby the birds are kept in cages and force fed to produce a very large and fatty liver. This is a cruel practice and undoubtedly results in unnecessary suffering. Anyone interested in learning more can visit www.rspca.org.uk"

Coun Blanchard is also hoping to meet Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw.

Mr Bradshaw has previously said banning the food would be illegal under European Union laws.

But Coun Blanchard has taken legal advice and been told that a World Trade Organisation and EU Treaty, while not banning the importation of foie gras, would allow it to be banned from going on sale.

The production of foie gras is banned in Britain, but it is imported from the continent.

The name literally means fat liver and it is made by force-feeding ducks and geese over a period of four to five months. After slaughter, the huge liver that is produced is then soaked overnight in water or milk, before being marinated in fortified wines and seasonings. It is then cooked.