Cruelty in the Industry of Foie Gras

October 12, 2021Lu Shegay


Foie gras is a specialty food product that is made out of the duck or a goose’s liver that is forcibly enlargened almost nine times the regular size of the bird’s liver. According to French law, foie gras is defined as the duck or goose’s liver fattened by force-feeding, however, it is claimed that in some countries, natural feeding is used as the method of producing foie gras. Foie gras is recognized as the popular and common delicacy food in French cuisine. The method of force-feeding has its historical background when the ancient Egyptians began to keep birds for the purposes of food consumption and deliberately fattened birds through this method. At present, France is considered the largest producer and consumer of foie gras in the world, followed by other European countries, the United States, and China.

Foie gras has earned a lot of controversies, mainly due to the treatment of birds for producing the dish and due to the methods used for acquiring the liver from the animal. At the foie gras factory farms, birds do not have the opportunity to stand, lie down, let alone turn around, and spread their wings, which puts them in completely unnatural conditions.

"foie gras śledztwo na Ukrainie" by Otwarte Klatki is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cruelty to Birds

The production of foie gras has risen a lot of concerns from many persons, including the animal rights advocates in the first place, and from the concerned individuals. Mostly, the horrifying thing was the method used to produce foie gras, which is done in the following way: the workers of the factory farms ram pipes down the throats of male ducks twice every day, pumping up to 2.2 pounds of grain and fat into the animals’ stomachs, or into the stomach of a goose three times a day, up to 4 pounds every day. As a result, the method of force-feeding birds causes the animals’ livers to swell up to 9-10 times larger than their normal size.

Apart from the abusive procedure of putting pipes into the birds’ throats, after their livers are enormously increased, birds experience difficulties in standing because of their livers distending their abdomens. Birds also experience distress due to the painful and uncomfortable feelings, and so they tend to tear out their own feathers and attack other birds.

Moreover, factory farms keep birds for the production of foie gras purposes in small cages or crowded sheds. Naturally, birds sunbathe and groom themselves, however, in the factory farms, it becomes impossible to do these actions, and they become coated “with excrement mixed with the oils that would normally protect their feathers from water.” According to the reporter who visited a foie gras factory farm, the ducks in it looked “listless” and “often lame from foot infection due to standing on metal grilles during the gavage.” However, that is not the only problem that causes damage to the birds’ health, such as the defected esophagus, fungal infections, diarrhea, impaired liver function, heat stress, lesions, fractures of the sternum, occasionally - aspiration pneumonia, etc.

The foie gras industry only uses male ducks, meaning that millions of female ducks are immediately killed since they are not considered useful for the industry. In France alone, approximately 40 million female ducklings are thrown into grinders - similar to the egg industry, where male chicks are killed in the same way.

Read more: Opinion: How Does Going Egg-Free Help Save Chickens?

There have been a few undercover investigations done, which discovered that “a single worker was expected to force-feed 500 birds three times each day. The pace meant that they often treated the birds roughly and left them injured and suffering. So many ducks died from ruptured organs resulting from overfeeding that workers who killed fewer than 50 birds per month were given a bonus. A worker told a PETA investigator that he could feel tumor-like lumps, caused by force-feeding, in some ducks’ throats. One duck had a maggot-ridden neck wound so severe that water spilled out of it when he drank.”

Another investigation made by PETA was at Hudson Valley in 2013 that reported thousands of young ducks crammed into “huge warehouse-like sheds in conditions that are virtually identical to those for “broiler” chickens and turkeys on factory farms.” At Hudson Valley, approximately 15 000 ducks die annually on the farm before they are slaughtered. It was also documented that the foie gras factory farm employees dragged ducks by their necks “along the wire floor and pin them between their legs before ramming the metal force-feeding tubes down their throats.”

Similar conditions and treatment of birds have been observed in other foie gras factory farms in Europe, where ducks were lined up in iron coffin-like cages, and the birds’ heads and necks have been dragged in the small hole to conduct force-feeding in an easier way.

"File:Mulard duck being force fed corn in order to fatten its liver for foie gras production.jpg" by Credit L214 - Éthique & animaux is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Controversies and Activities

According to the animal rights and animal welfare activists and animal protection organizations in the United States, such as the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the production of foie gras, in particular, the methods, are cruel and inhumane towards animals.

In 2001, the Director of the New York State Government Affairs & Public Policy Department for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sent a letter to the NYS Attorney General at the time, asking to prosecute the producers of foie gras within the state for violating animal cruelty statutes.

Another initiative was done in 2003 when the French group Stopgavage ("Citizens' Initiative for the banning of force-feeding") published the Proclamation for the Abolition of Force Feeding, which demanded justice to find foie gras production practices a violation of existing animal welfare laws.

In 2005, such organizations as APRL, IDA, and PETA released a video narrated by Sir Roger Moore showing footage the activist groups took inside the three U.S. foie gras farms and several farms in France.

In 1998, the European Union's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare on Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese published an 89-page review of studies from several producing countries. It examined certain indicators of animal welfare, including physiological indicators, liver pathology, and mortality rate. It strongly concluded that "force-feeding, as currently practiced, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds."

The EU report stated that continued force-feeding generally leads to the early death of animals, and the birds are typically slaughtered just at the point that mortality would significantly increase from the force-feeding. The studies provided that "the mortality rate in force-fed birds varies from 2% to 4% in the two-week force-feeding period compared with around 0.2% in comparable ducks." Other studies were conducted to observe the behavioral reaction to the feeding process; these studies indicate that force-fed ducks avoided the feeding pen when given a choice, whereas daily hand-feeding of ducks and geese is normally associated with a positive response by animals towards the person feeding them.

Read more: Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese

As for the present times, foie gras production is banned in 16 countries across the globe, which include Czech Republic, Italy, Finland, Poland, Turkey, etc. The United Kingdom banned the practice but continues to import the product. In some other countries, the practice itself is not common due to different traditional features and the distinction in cuisine, however, it does not imply these countries do not import foie gras from other countries where it is more popular. The cruel practice of animal exploitation shall end by a simple way of reducing the demand for these products. As the practice shows, banning a certain practice is not always an effective method to end the industry due to the existence of a black market, illegal activities, and lack of awareness. Education and spreading the word may be a starting point of informing people about the detrimental effects of using animals in factory farms and other forms of exploitation, as well as the importance to recognize animals as crime victims.

Read more: Recognizing Animals as Crime Victims

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