Is there an upside to the capsizing economy?

By Chris Holbein

It’s hard to find a silver lining in a recession. Stocks are plummeting, 401(k) plans are shrinking and businesses are either scaling back or folding. But there is one bright spot: Food magazines have stopped force-feeding their readers recipes featuring foie gras.

Gourmet and Bon Appétit have reportedly forsaken foie gras in favor of more budget-friendly options, and the editor in chief of Food & Wine recently announced that the magazine will no longer feature “recipes that involve loads of foie gras.” That’s a good thing. It’s just a shame that it took a tanking economy—rather than an ethical revolution or even a sense of revulsion—to make some foodies give up diseased duck livers. 

It’s unconscionable to inflict a painful, debilitating condition known as hepatic lipidosis—or fatty liver—on ducks and geese simply to please our palates. In foie gras factories, birds are restrained two or three times a day for force-feedings. Up to 4 pounds of grain and fat are pumped into their stomachs through metal pipes every single day. The pipes sometimes puncture the birds’ throats, and the force-feeding process causes the birds’ livers to balloon to as much as 10 times their natural size. (The livers of migrating birds, by contrast, never increase to more than twice their normal size, even when the birds are “fattening up” for a long journey.)

Veterinarian Bruce Feldmann examined ducks from a foie gras facility and concluded, “[T]hese animals suffered from various diseases, including hepatic lipidosis and possibly hepatic encephalopathy [brain damage caused by liver malfunction], which were brought on directly by the force feeding process they were subjected to.”

The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare surveyed pathologists from various countries on the condition of force-fed birds and reported that the birds’ livers were “pathological,” or diseased. They also noted that “birds with expanded livers had difficulty in standing and their natural gait and ability to walk were severely impaired.”

Research also shows that the mortality rate of birds raised for foie gras is as much as 20 times higher than that of birds raised for other purposes and that force-fed birds commonly suffer from wing fractures and severely damaged throat muscles.

Long before the global economy started spiraling downward, a number of countries, including the U.K., Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Israel, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, banned foie gras production because it is inhumane. The production and sale of foie gras will be illegal in California by 2012, and Maine is also considering a bill that would prohibit foie gras production.

There’s no legitimate reason for producing foie gras anywhere. It’s a selfish indulgence that we can all do without and, as Giles Coren, food writer for the U.K.’s The Times, says, “a lazy way for a half-competent chef to make his food seem flash.”

The economy will recover—hopefully sooner rather than later—but if caring people get their wish, foie gras will never rebound.

Chris Holbein is the project manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Special Projects Division

Leave a Reply