Tag Archives: foie gras

Are foie gras farms stuck in the Middle Ages?

By Dan Paden

During ancient times, farmers reputedly immobilized ducks and geese in order to more easily force-feed and fatten them by nailing their feet to the floor. You would think that we had progressed beyond such barbarism, but a recent PETA investigation at a foie gras farm in Québec has revealed conditions that are depressingly archaic.

At a farm located outside Montréal and owned by Palmex, Inc., which is part of Rougié, the self-proclaimed “world’s #1 producer of foie gras,” PETA documented ducks lined up in rows of coffin-like cages that encase their bodies like vices. The birds’ heads and necks protrude through small openings, which makes force-feeding easier. The birds can do little more than stand, try to lie down and turn their heads. They cannot so much as spread a single wing.

Ducks are waterfowl. In their natural habitat, they spend almost their entire lives in or near water—swimming, bathing, diving and feeding. On foie gras farms, ducks never go near ponds or streams—ever. In their final weeks, they are confined to cages or pens and several pounds of mush is pumped down their throats through a metal pipe up to three times a day. This is done until the birds’ livers grotesquely expand to up to 10 times their normal size, which is the symptom of a painful disease called hepatic steatosis. Some people call it a delicacy.

Similar conditions to those at Palmex have been documented on French foie gras farms, even though shoebox-style cages were supposed to have been eliminated there after the Council of Europe passed regulations in 1999 that require foie gras farms to provide birds with enough space in which to move, preen, interact and eat and drink normally. Existing farms were given until the end of 2010 to comply with the regulations, but at least one of the French farms where these cages were documented was built after the law went into effect.

Both France and Canada export foie gras all over the globe, including a corner of the world that recently banned the production and sale of foie gras: Hermosa Beach, Calif. Palmex supplies foie gras to Hot’s Kitchen, a restaurant in Hermosa Beach that continues to sell foie gras in flagrant violation of a statewide ban. PETA has filed a lawsuit against the restaurant’s owner.

There are those who, even after seeing photos of lethargic, barely conscious ducks with red-rimmed eyes, filthy feathers, drooping heads and bloody injuries to their necks and bills, will insist that there’s nothing wrong with foie gras, but experts disagree. “Ducks need to be able to move, walk, stretch, preen, bathe … and exercise,” says avian veterinarian Dr. Anthony Pilny. “This housing denies and frustrates the ducks’ basic, biological needs, and it is cruel and inhumane. These animals feel pain, grief, and loss. It is unjust to treat them in this way.”

There’s a reason why foie gras production has been outlawed in more than a dozen countries (and California),why chefs like Charlie Trotter refuse to serve it, and why Prince Charles refuses to allow it on royal menus: It’s an abomination. We may no longer be nailing birds’ feet to the floor, but we haven’t progressed much beyond that in the past millennium.

Time to ban foie gras

By Alisa Mullins

With California’s foie gras ban poised to take effect in less than two months, some of the Golden State’s chefs are scrambling to mount a last-minute campaign to overturn the ban. Birds raised for foie gras are force-fed up to 4 pounds of grain and fat every day via a pneumatic tube that is rammed down their throats—a process that former California Sen. John Burton colorfully describes as “doing the equivalent of waterboarding.”

California should uphold its ban on foie gras—and the rest of the U.S. should follow the state’s progressive lead.

Burton, who spearheaded California’s ban and built in a seven-year grace period specifically to allow California’s lone foie gras producer, Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, to come up with an alternative to force-feeding birds, has no patience for the chefs’ last-ditch appeal.

“They’ve had all this time to figure it out and come up with a more humane way,” he said. “I’d like to sit … them down and have duck and goose fat—better yet, dry oatmeal—shoved down their throats over and over and over again.”

Force-feeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to as much as 10 to 12 times their normal size, resulting in a painful disease known as hepatic steatosis (which makes foie gras a diseased organ and therefore illegal to sell in the U.S., according to a lawsuit filed this month by several animal protection groups). The birds often suffer from internal hemorrhaging, fungal and bacterial infections, and hepatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused when their livers fail. They can become so debilitated that they can move only by pushing themselves along the ground with their wings.

A journalist who visited Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras in 2003 reported that force-fed ducks “moved little and panted” with the effort, and an employee admitted that “[s]ome [ducks] die from heart failure as a result of the feeding, or from choking when they regurgitate.”

A recent undercover investigation at the farm revealed filthy, bedraggled birds (failure to preen is a sign of illness or distress), birds panting and struggling to breathe, birds who were too ill to stand, and even the bodies of dead birds among the living. An average of 20 percent of ducks on foie gras farms die before slaughter, 10 to 20 times the average death rate on a regular duck farm.

Force-feeding birds has been denounced by every expert in the field of poultry welfare. Dr. Christine Nichol, a tenured poultry husbandry professor at the University of Bristol, believes that foie gras production “causes unacceptable suffering to these animals. … It causes pain during and as a consequence of the force-feeding, feelings of malaise as the body struggles to cope with extreme nutrient imbalance and distress ….”

Foie gras production is so cruel that it has been banned in more than a dozen countries, including Israel, the U.K., Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland, and it will be outlawed throughout the European Union by 2020.

Really, the only people defending foie gras are those who produce it and cook with it, and with thousands of other delectable ingredients available, it’s hard to imagine why chefs are fighting tooth and, er, bill to hang onto this deadly “delicacy.” Their objections should be filleted, puréed, flambéed and stuffed. Surely, any creative chef worth his or her artisanal sea salt can make do without a tortured duck’s liver.