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The Grief Behind Foie Gras
Duck and Goose Liver Pate
France produces most of the world's annual 10,000 tons of foie gras--the livers of ducks and geese grotesquely enlarged by cruel force-feeding. But inhumane force-feeding goes on in U.S. factory farms, too--in New York and California.(1)
In 1991, PETA investigated foie gras production at Commonwealth Enterprises located in the Catskills of New York. Despite Commonwealth's many prior claims that it made foie gras without force-feeding the ducks, PETA's investigators observed and documented the following:
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 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.
Foie gras is sold as a "delicacy" which, until Commonwealth was established, was not obtainable "fresh" in the U.S.--only as processed pâté de foie gras--because of import restrictions.
Only male ducks are used for foie gras--they produce larger livers and are considered better able to withstand the four weeks of torture. Female hatchlings are treated as trash--literally. Commonwealth workers were observed stuffing a nylon feed sack with female ducklings, tying the bag at the top, and dropping it into a trash can filled with scalding water. Workers killed the surviving ones by smashing their heads against the trash can.
Based on PETA investigators' evidence, eyewitness accounts, and veterinarians' statements, New York state police raided Commonwealth in April 1992. The company was charged with cruelty to animals. Sadly, the district attorney later gave in to pressure by agriculture groups, withdrew the criminal charges, and persuaded a judge to seal the case file so the proceedings which led to the dismissal would remain secret.
Veterinarians who viewed PETA investigators' video footage and read their log notes said such force-feeding would damage the pharynx and esophagus so severely that ducks would not be able to eat on their own after a short period; there is a high chance of infection from using the same pipe on so many ducks without cleanings; and food is likely to enter the lungs, causing pneumonia.
One veterinarian who accompanied police on their raid of Commonwealth Enterprises said, "All of the ducks [in the force-feeding area] exhibited signs of illness. Many of those ducks were unable to walk or stand. [Some] exhibited ... bill deformities."(4)
Another stated, "[Force-feeding] can injure the mouth and esophagus. ... The birds appear to be ill; their eyes are dull and their feathers unkempt."(5) A third veterinarian who accompanied police noted that "none [of the ducks] was attempting to preen. Only severely stressed or ill ducks allow their plumage to deteriorate to the degree seen in this videotape."(6)
A New York state wildlife pathologist who examined ducks from Commonwealth said, "If this kind of thing was happening to dogs, it would be stopped immediately."(7) He expressed horror at their "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. This type of treatment and farming of waterfowl is outside the acceptable norms of agriculture and sane treatment of animals."(8)
Many New York veterinarians signed a statement that foie gras production should be outlawed because foie gras is nothing but the serious liver disease hepatic lipidosis: "Animals in this condition would feel extremely ill .... Foie gras production, by definition, constitutes clear-cut animal cruelty."
Nobel Prize-winning goose expert Konrad Lorenz was asked to read to the European Parliament a report promoting the foie gras industry. Lorenz refused, saying he felt "hot with anger" as he read the report. "My viewpoint towards the 'expert opinion' which further permits forcible fattening of geese ... can be expressed briefly: The 'expert opinion' is a shame for the whole of Europe."(9)
Foie gras and pâté de foie gras can make people fat and sick like the unfortunate birds tortured to produce it. Foie gras gets 85 percent of its calories from fat--more than twice as much as a hamburger! Cardiologist David T. Nash has pointed out, "This fat is mostly palmitic acid, a saturated fat known to increase cholesterol."(10)
Following PETA's exposé, activists organized protests at restaurants that serve foie gras, and PETA sent information to hundreds of restaurants in the U.S. and Canada. Many, including the San Francisco Hilton, Chicago's Pump Room, and New York's Loews hotel chain, have removed foie gras from their menus. Air Canada and Scandinavian airline SAS have both agreed to stop serving foie gras, and American Airlines agreed to stop selling it in its duty-free catalog. Echoing the sentiments of many of the restaurateurs who received PETA's information on foie gras, George Dareos, owner of La Louisiane restaurant in San Antonio, Texas wrote: "I cannot thank you enough for providing this information to me. . . . It is simply appalling! I am discontinuing any further purchasing of [foie gras] immediately."
Possibly because of the scandal of force-feeding, Commonwealth became part of the foie gras company AGY Corporation, which also does business as Hudson Valley Foie Gras, New York State Foie Gras, and Ferme de Gourmande, D'Artagnan.
Since 1993, New York state legislators have introduced bills that would prohibit force-feeding for foie gras production. The powerful farm lobby opposes the legislation, and as this factsheet goes to print, the Senate and Assembly Committees on Agriculture have been unwilling to hold open hearings on cruel force-feeding.
On April 4, 1995, PETA sent a letter co-signed by 223 animal protection groups to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which has authority to enforce New York's anti-cruelty laws. The letter urged the ASPCA to investigate and prosecute the New York foie gras producers, pointing out that New York law prohibits torturing or unjustifiably injuring animals and furthering any act of cruelty to animals. As of this writing, PETA has no word on how the ASPCA plans to act on this information, but we are hopeful they will opt to enforce the law to its fullest extent.
Never buy foie gras or any foie gras product. Order a foie gras action pack from PETA. Urge restaurants and stores that sell foie gras to halt sales and to sell vegetarian pâté instead. (The vegetarian Bonavita brand and others are often sold alongside U.S. and imported liver pâté in food stores.) Organize demonstrations where foie gras is sold. Ask PETA how you can support legislation to prohibit cruel force-feeding.
Other Foie Gras Articles
Our thanks to People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for this article.
The calf photo on these pages is from Farm Sanctuary with our thanks.
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