ANIMALS KILLED FOR FOOD:
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.
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.” 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. Today, in France, only 6 percent of foie gras comes from geese. 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.
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. 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.” 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”). 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 throat muscles.
Investigations Reveal Further Cruelty
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) did an 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 near-perfect condition.”
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.” And he later told PETA, “If this kind of thing was happening to dogs, it would be stopped immediately.”
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.” Please visit 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.” 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 impossible.
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.” Even ducks confined to cages “moved their heads away from the person who was about to force feed them.”
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. 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.
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.
Residents of Sonoma, Calif., submitted a petition to their City Council, asking that foie gras not be sold within the city limits.
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.
What You Can Do
Begin learning about becoming a vegetarian or a vegan. A vegetarian is someone who does not eat the flesh of any living being including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, crustaceans, or fish. A vegan is someone who makes every effort to avoid eating, wearing or using all animal products.
Try the many new and flavorful “meat” alternatives, or mock meats, now available at health food stores and at many regular supermarkets. Delicious soy and rice “milks” are now available at all grocery stores. Keep trying new animal-free foods.
When you see veal on a menu, always speak to the manager or owner of the restaurant to complain about the particularly brutal treatment of calves for this dish. If told their veal is “free range,” tell them there is no such thing. By definition, veal must be kept in certain conditions to produce this type of meat. If it is “free range,” it cannot be called “veal.”