(France, Hungary, Bulgaria, U.S.)– Also technically a part of factory farming, foie gras (literally “fatty liver”) production is so sickening it deserves its own category. It is made by force-feeding geese and ducks massive amounts of grain through pipes pushed down their throats, resulting in esophageal trauma and their diseased livers painfully swelling up to 10 times their normal size. The birds often vomit after the force-feeding, and they are kept in tiny stalls similar to veal crates. The cruelty involved in foie gras production is almost unknown by the very people who eat liver pate.
The ducks and geese are kept in tiny individual cages barely bigger than their bodies, where they are isolated from each other, and their heads stick out of the cages for easy force-feeding, from which they try but cannot escape. Other than that these intelligent and beautiful water birds have absolutely nothing to see or do, and get painful sores on their backsides from being unable to walk, much as the chickens in battery cages get. The cruelty is incredible and the lives of the birds are constant misery, all for a fleeting taste of their livers by humans.
Two to three times a day, a worker grabs each bird, shoves a long, thick metal tube all the way down his throat, and an air pump shoots up to two pounds of corn mush into his esophagus. The industry always refers to the dry weight of the feed, which is about one pound per feeding. Adding oil and water doubles this weight, making it 20-30% of the bird’s healthy body weight. Picture 30 one pound boxes of dry pasta and then add water. This is proportionally how much a 150 pound human would be force fed using this formula. A duck’s liver naturally weighs around 50 grams. However, to qualify as foie gras, the industry’s own regulations require ducks’ livers to weigh an absolute minimum of 300 grams.
The vast amounts of feed pumped down the ducks’ throats causes enormous internal pressure, and the pipe sometimes punctures the esophagus, causing many to die from choking on the blood that fills their lungs. Some birds literally burst, choke to death on their own vomit, or become so weak that they are unable to fend off rats from eating them alive click to see footage from Sonoma Foie gras–requires Windows Media Player). Other ducks die a slow, painful, and premature death by suffocation from inhalation of regurgitated feed. In fact, because of the massive toll taken on the birds during the force-feeding process, the average pre-slaughter mortality rate is up to twenty times higher than on other duck factory farms, according to the European Union’s Scientific Report on the subject.According to the ASPCA, “The birds’ livers become so enlarged……that according to documentation by veterinarians, the animals must experience unspeakable pain and suffering. Birds have literally exploded from these forced feedings.
The results of necropsies on dead birds that have been force-fed reveal ruptured livers, throat damage, esophageal trauma, and food spilling from the dead animals’ throats and out of their nostrils.” The ASPCA has police power to enforce the animal cruelty law in New York State and has filed charges against Commonwealth Enterprises, now Hudson Valley Foie Gras, in the past for force feeding ducks. Because it is a multi-million dollar enterprise with a lot of political clout in rural Sullivan County, the elected District Attorney dropped the charges. The ASPCA wrote a letter to New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer in late 2001 calling for him to take action, but thus far he has not. In addition to enduring force-feeding, the birds also suffer the same neglectful and abusive treatment of other factory-farmed animals: overcrowding, mutilations (their beaks are cut off), all their natural instincts and desires-such as interacting in social groups, mating freely, keeping themselves clean, nurturing their young, exploring their surroundings-thwarted, and eventually being sent to a violent death by slaughter.
Throughout the weeks of force-feeding, the birds are kept in either a group pen or an individual cage with only wire or plastic-mesh floors to stand and sleep on. Unable to feel the sun on their backs or ground beneath their feet, the ducks are held in cages so small that they cannot fully stand or stretch their wings, and often get red, raw sores from having to sit in one place. To make matters worse, the ducks and geese are housed without access to swimming water even though ducks need to be able to immerse themselves in water to remain healthy. Access to water on these farms is so limited that the ducks cannot adequately clean their nostrils and eyes, which can lead to blindness. And finally, I challenge anyone to look at these photos–especially the last one of the duck who died choking on his own vomit– and then still say they can truly enjoy foie gras.
Who’s fighting it: Peta, HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, Global Action Network, nofoiegras.org, gourmetcruelty.com, goveg.com, The Humane League,
Recent progress: A California state-wide ban on the production and sale of foie gras will go into effect in the next few years, and other state bills are pending. Unfortunately a similar ban in Illinois was overturned. Many European countries, and Israel, previously the fourth-larges producer of foie gras, have also banned the cruel practice.
Go to Part 16, Fur Farms
Go to Introduction