Controversial delicacy foie gras is disappearing from the shelves of Britain's grocery retailers after wholesaler Makro suspended sales this week.

It is the latest in a growing list of grocery giants to stop buying the French luxury pâté, made from the livers of force-fed ducks and geese. Animal rights campaign group Viva! says the force-feeding of birds to make their livers swell up is akin to torture.

Makro is allowing stock to run down at its 32 cash and carries, while it tries to establish whether or not foie gras is produced cruelly. "What we're doing is investigating Viva!'s claims, and have put a break on ordering new stock until the investigation is complete," said a spokesman.

The move has been hailed as a key victory in the fight against the foie gras trade. "In the past couple of years, foie gras has become cheaper, putting it within reach of a much wider consumer base," said Viva! campaign manager Justin Kerswell. "Makro selling the product was part of that." The product was taken off shelves at German discounter Lidl's stores earlier this year, and major multiples Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose and M&S have not stocked it for many years.

But the UK still imports an estimated 5% of the foie gras produced in France - equivalent to 144 tonnes every year. Viva! is now turning its attention to the delicatessens and high-end retailers such as Selfridges and Harrods that still stock foie gras.

And it is also hoping to stop restaurants and caterers serving up the delicacy by securing a ban on selling foie gras in the UK.

Kerswell claimed that there were signs the government supported the idea of a sales ban. He pointed to the 130 signatures on an Early Day Motion calling for a ban, as well as sympathetic comments made by former Defra minister Ben Bradshaw.

"The government could order a sales ban on animal rights grounds without infringing EU or WTO rules," he added. "It needs to take account of the growing public will on this."