Foie Gras Fact Sheet
Foie gras is made from the grotesquely enlarged livers
of ducks and geese who have been cruelly force-fed. Although France is the
primary exporter (and consumer) of this so-called "delicacy," producing
16,000 tons of it a year, the inhumane force-feedings take place on factory
farms in the United States, too.(1) The major U.S. producers of foie gras
are Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York and Sonoma Foie Gras in
While foie gras has historically come from force-fed
geese, many farms now raise ducks as well-mule, muscovy, and genetically
manipulated, sterile animals called "moulards."(3,4) Farmers have found that
they can sell more than just the ducks' fattened livers:
Ducks' legs, breasts, fat, and skin are all marketed
for (mostly French) specialty foods. The bodies of geese, however, age too
quickly to be used for some of these foods.(5) Today, in France, only 6
percent of foie gras comes from geese.(6) It is common, however, for geese
to be raised for their down as well as for foie gras, and birds with white
feathers are preferred for this purpose.(7)
Birds raised for foie gras spend the first four weeks
of their lives eating and growing, sometimes in semi-darkness. For the next
four weeks, they are confined to cages and fed a high-protein, high-starch
diet that is designed to promote rapid growth.
Force-feedings begin when the birds are between 8 and
10 weeks old. For 12 to 21 days, ducks and geese are subjected to "gavage"-every
day, up to 2 pounds of grain and fat is forced down the birds' throats by
means of an auger in a feeding tube.(8)
The Washington Post reported that the tube "is pushed 5
inches down their throats and more food than they want is gunned into their
stomachs. If the mushy corn sticks . a stick is sometimes used to force it
down."(9) The birds' livers, which become engorged from a carbohydrate-rich
diet, can grow to more than 10 times their normal size (a condition called
"hepatic steatosis").(10) Birds have difficulty
standing, and they tear out their own feathers and cannibalize each other as
a result of stress.
The mortality rate of birds raised for foie gras has
been found to be as much as 20 times higher than that of birds raised
normally, and carcasses show wing fractures and severe tissue damage to the
Investigations Reveal Further Cruelty
A PETA investigation of a foie gras production facility
at Commonwealth Enterprises in New York revealed that workers were expected
to force-feed 500 birds three times a day. A worker told one of PETA's
investigators that he could feel tumor-like lumps, caused by force-feeding,
in some ducks' throats. One duck had a maggot-covered neck wound that was so
severe that water spilled out of it when he drank. Workers routinely carried
ducks by their necks, causing them to choke and defecate in distress.
One veterinarian who accompanied the police on their
raid of Commonwealth noted, "Many of the ducks . were lame or unable to walk
without using their wings for support. Some ducks moved by pushing their
bodies along the floor. Healthy ducks spend much of their time on their
feet, constantly investigating their environment." This same veterinarian
said, "All of the birds in the force-feeding area had dirty, ragged,
incomplete plumage, yet none were attempting to preen.
Only severely stressed or ill ducks allow their plumage
to deteriorate to [such a] degree. . Normal ducks keep their feathers in
A New York state wildlife pathologist who examined
ducks from Commonwealth expressed horror at the birds' "greatly enlarged
livers, the product of overfeeding by force (livers are easily torn by even
minor trauma)" and at one duck's "laceration of the liver with hemorrhage
into the body cavity." He went on to say, "This type of treatment and
farming of waterfowl is outside the acceptable norms of agriculture and sane
treatment of animals."(13) And he later told PETA, "If
this kind of thing was happening to dogs, it would be stopped
A New York Times reporter who visited Sonoma Foie Gras
found that young ducks had their beaks clipped and that birds "were so fat
[that] they moved little and panted." The reporter also noted that at the
age of 12 to 15 weeks, birds were confined to dark sheds that had "standing
water . deep enough to suggest a drainage problem."(15)
www.gourmetcruelty.com to view footage and to
learn more about this investigation.
Domestic Geese and Ducks
Geese are very social animals who establish hierarchies
in their flocks and love to forage. They prefer to be monogamous, and both
parents care for their young. One breeder says that "geese tend to vary more
from one individual to another in terms of personality traits than any other
form of domestic poultry."(16) Ducks also like to forage, swim, and raise
their young. Because most birds raised for foie gras are kept in cages or in
very small groups, their social or normal grooming activities are limited or
Domestic ducks and geese usually enjoy being hand-fed
by humans, but birds subjected to force-feeding "kept away from the person
who would force-feed them . the birds were less well able to move and were
usually panting but they still moved away."(17) Even ducks confined to cages
"moved their heads away from the person who was about to force feed
High Fat, High Cholesterol
Foie gras is unhealthy for humans. It derives 85
percent of its calories from fat: a 2-ounce serving contains 25 grams of fat
and 85 milligrams of cholesterol.(19)
Nations Ban Foie Gras
The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that foie gras
production violates the country's cruelty-to-animals laws and could be
banned by 2005.(20) Germany and other European nations have prohibited the
production of foie gras, and force-feeding birds is prohibited in the United
Kingdom and in Switzerland, where foie gras packages are required to carry
labels to inform consumers that the birds were force-fed.(21,22)
In the United States, the Smithsonian Institution
canceled a lecture seminar on foie gras, the Boston Symphony Orchestra
removed foie gras from its Tanglewood Wine and Food Classic, and
Williams-Sonoma stopped selling foie gras in its catalog.(23,24)
Residents of Sonoma, Calif., submitted a petition to
their City Council, asking that foie gras not be sold within the city
What You Can Do
Urge restaurants and stores that sell foie gras to halt
sales of this cruel product and to sell vegetarian pâté instead. (Vegetarian
brands, such as Bonavita, are often sold alongside liver pâtés in food
stores.) Organize demonstrations at restaurants and stores where foie gras
is sold. Contact PETA for a foie gras action pack and for information on how
you can support legislation to prohibit cruel force-feeding.
1)Patricia Leigh Brown, "Foie Gras Fracas: Haute Cuisine Meets the
Duck Liberators," The New York Times, 24 Sep. 2003.
2)Nick Ravo, "A Cornucopia of Native Foie Gras," The New York Times,
24 Sep. 1998.
3)Roger Buckland and Gérard Guy, eds., "Goose Production. FAO Animal
Production and Health Paper-154," Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations, 2002.
6)Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, "Welfare
Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese," 16 Dec. 1998.
7)Buckland and Guy.
8)Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare.
9)Peter Finn, "To Hungarian Professor, What's Good for the Goose Is
Good for the Goose Liver Industry," The Washington Post, 31 Jan. 2000.
10)E. Fournier et al., "Relationships Between Storage and Secretion of
Hepatic Lipids in Two Breeds of Geese With Different Susceptibility to Liver
Steatosis," Poultry Science 76 (1997): 599-607.
11)Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare.
12)Wendy Thacher, D.V.M., signed statement, 19 Nov. 1991.
13)Ward B. Stone, letter to Dr. Eric Hartelius, 13 Nov. 1991.
14)Ward B. Stone, letter to PETA, 6 May 1992.
16)Lou Horton, "Understanding the Behavior of Domestic Geese," Acorn
Hollow Bantams, 18 Oct. 2002.
17)Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare.
19)United States Department of Agriculture, "Pâté de Foie Gras, Canned
(Goose Liver Pâté), Smoked," National Nutrient Database for Standard
Reference, 16 Jul. 2003.
20)"Israel Court Cans Foie Gras Farms," BBC News, 13 Aug. 2003.
23)Mara Mayor, director of the Smithsonian Institution, letter to PETA,
27 Aug. 1999.
24)"Sonoma Cause Célèbre: Foie Gras; City Council Gets Petition to Ban
Sale of Delicacy," The San Francisco Chronicle, 19 Nov. 2003.
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