Factory Farming > Birds > Foie Gras - Index

Farm Sanctuary News, Spring 2000
Foie Gras: Liver Disease as "Gourmet" Treat

Foie gras is French for "fatty liver". Hepatic lipidosis is Greek for "fatty liver disease". According to veterinarians, they are one and the same. Foie gras, the liver of a duck or goose swollen to many times normal size by force-feeding to make an expensive "gourmet" appetizer, is the very painful liver disease hepatic lipidosis. It is "the food of the pharaohs", according to some promoters. Of course, the pharaohs are not remembered mainly for their compassion.

Injured duck with bloody wounds left unattended.

Although many animal food products result from extremely cruel practices, foie gras production uses a cruel invasive feeding process: shoving a pipe down the throats of ducks or geese through which huge amounts of nutritionally deficient food are forced into the birds' stomachs. Several years ago, a visitor to the largest New York state foie gras company was told employees received bonuses if they caused fewer than 50 stomachs to burst a month.

Worker force-feeding duck.

Hard To Survive Force-Feeding

Maybe that is what foie gras producer and promoter Michael Ginor meant when he wrote in his book Foie Gras: A Passion that producers "have discovered that the way to decrease goose and duck mortality and increase the average weight of the livers is to treat the birds delicately". It takes special effort to keep birds from dying from force-feeding before their livers become the grotesque, diseased fatty mass known as foie gras desired by some "gourmets". Neither ducks nor geese nor any other animals evolved to withstand such torture.

Worker force-feeding duck.

The "food" forced into the birds is typically a mixture of ground corn, oil, water, and salt -- not a sound diet for long-term health of ducks and geese. Corn lacks choline, which aids liver function. This deficiency accelerates growth of the liver. After about four weeks of repeated daily force-feedings, the liver, normally about three ounces, can weigh up to one-and-a-half pounds. Imagine suggesting it could be "humane" to make a vital organ grow to many times its normal size!

Device used to force-feed ducks.

Yet that is exactly what Ginor seeks to do. In Foie Gras: A Passion and in radio and television appearances and other presentations promoting the book and foie gras itself, he claims the assembly line-type force-feeding of thousands of birds "take[s] advantage of the birds' natural eating habits and physiology" in that ducks and geese eat large amounts of food to have energy reserves for migration. Yet it would be impossible for them to fly, let alone migrate, after weeks of force-feeding. In fact, producers consider the ideal time to slaughter the birds to be when they are about to die of the force-feeding process.

Known Cruelty

Veterinarians who accompanied New York State Police officers on their historic raid of one of Ginor's foie gras companies, Commonwealth Enterprises, in 1992, when the police charged the company with cruelty to animals, wrote detailed affidavits describing debilitating injuries in the ducks. (Charges were dropped due to agribusiness influence and legal maneuvering.) Videotape showed ducks trying to "walk" using their wings because their legs had given out.

Trash cans filled with the bodies of ducks who died from force-feeding.

Foie gras producers also claim force-feeding does not hurt ducks and geese because birds have sometimes been observed approaching, rather than fleeing from, workers who have been force-feeding them, when the workers enter their pens. Yet that does not mean the birds "like" force-feeding or that the practice is not cruel.

Birds may approach the workers for several reasons: (1) They have imprinted on humans not having been raised by their natural mothers or others of their species. (2) The workers are their only source of food, even if that food is delivered in a painful fashion. (3) Human beings are their only possible source of care � the birds may approach because they are in pain from force-feeding and a swollen liver and do not associate the workers with their suffering due to the passage of time between force-feeding and their misery.

Trash cans filled with the bodies of ducks who died from force-feeding.

Dubious Industry Claims

Animals, including ducks and geese, are complex individual beings with minds and emotions. Attributing specific feelings to a poodle or an infant based on wishful thinking is likely to mislead. Likewise, foie gras industry claims that force-feeding is not cruel simply because ducks or geese choose to approach those who force-feed them are extremely irresponsible. They are part of a calculated effort to overcome people's natural concern about the inherently cruel practice of causing a painful disease in animals and calling it a food.

Progress Against Foie Gras

Ginor was a guest on the February 5, 2000, broadcast of A Chef's Table, the hour-long Saturday cooking show on Philadelphia public radio station WHYY-FM. The show was advertised as providing "your complete guide to foie gras", yet it took many demands that the broadcast be cancelled before an animal activist was invited to take part by phone for a few minutes. Knowing many facts about foie gras production, he was able to refute Ginor's claims that foie gras production is not cruel.

Unwanted eggs and live ducklings discarded with the trash.

In his book Ginor complains that "from a strategic standpoint", foie gras companies "provide an easy target for animal rights activists". That is true, but foie gras production receives a minuscule portion of our movement's protest activities. After becoming informed, some expensive restaurants agreed to stop offering foie gras. So did United, Delta, Air Canada, and American Airlines, all of which used to serve foie gras to first-class passengers. Macy's agreed to cancel a foie gras cooking class, and most recently the Smithsonian Associates agreed to cancel a presentation by Ginor.

Hungary is the largest producer, but the most foie gras is consumed in France, the second largest producing country. Israel is the third largest; most of that country's foie gras is exported. Germany and Poland in recent years passed laws prohibiting foie gras production, and the government of South Africa declared that the country's anti-cruelty statute makes it unlawful there.

Duck with maggot-infested neck wound caused by force-feeding.

Although the United States is not a major foie gras producer, Ginor and his New York companies do not want our country to remain a small player. Foie gras is sold mainly in the most expensive restaurants, by costly caterers, and in gourmet stores, but the force-feeding magnates want it to become a pizza topping, an ordinary food of the masses. That would mean a lot more ducks each year suffering from cruel force-feeding and the painful liver disease hepatic lipidosis.

Help End Cruel Force-Feeding

Please keep a lookout for this horrible product, because there are many things you can do to prevent the industry from growing and to eliminate it through perseverance:

Complain to restaurants and other vendors where you notice foie gras for sale. Give managers a copy of this article and other information available from Farm Sanctuary.

Notify Farm Sanctuary of any foie gras promotional event that is coming up in your area or on national television or radio. Please inform those in charge that you oppose cruel force-feeding and any effort to promote foie gras as a legitimate product.

Residents of New York state can help pass legislation to stop cruel foie gras production. A bill to ban force-feeding has been introduced in New York state -- letters and phone calls are urgently needed. If you live in New York, please contact your state representative and urge him/her to cosponsor A. 5967.

All foie gras photos appear courtesy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

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