It is this time of year that foie gras (from the French for “fat liver”) appears on gourmet restaurant menus. Although the cruel practice of force-feeding geese and ducks is now illegal in Austria – and eleven other EU states, plus Norway and Switzerland – the import and sale of foie gras is still permitted.
“Although this is about a product with a long tradition, the barbaric production methods simply can’t be justified," stresses FOUR PAWS campaigner Indra Kley. For years now the animal welfare organization has been calling for an EU-wide ban on the force-feeding of ducks and geese.
The manufacture of foie gras involves force-feeding the birds usually two or three times per day. A tube is passed down their throats and large amounts of pureed fodder are passed into their stomach, often even by compressed air. Over time the liver becomes a very fat and morbidly altered organ, growing in size by ten times. By the end of the force-feeding period a goose’s liver will be so large as to make breathing difficult and movement almost impossible. On top of this, many birds are also plucked alive before being force-fed, so that profit can also be made from their down.
“Force-feeding and live plucking are illegal here in Austria, but it’s still legal in some countries, so occasionally meat from force-feeding also shows up in Austrian supermarkets," warns Kley. “To keep consumers better informed, we’ve added a new function for goose and duck meat to our FOUR PAWS animal welfare app.”
It allows the user to find out quickly whether the meat offered has been produced without force-feeding, live plucking or caging. The shopper simply has to scan the product’s barcode with their phone. They will then receive information on the production methods and origin.
The Austrian supermarket products concerned have already been entered in the FOUR PAWS database, and are regularly compared against the “white list” of goose meat producers, which is regularly updated by the organization. This list names responsible firms which submit to unannounced independent checks, and which can prove that they refrain from force-feeding, live plucking and keeping birds in cages.
The manufacture of foie gras is banned in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and also in Norway and Switzerland (non-EU countries). Production still continues in five European countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, France and Hungary, with France and Bulgaria as the world’s top producers of duck foie gras, and Hungary the world’s top producer of goose foie gras. These five countries make up the “European Foie Gras Federation”. The importing of foie gras is legal in the EU, even in the countries where force-feeding is banned.