What is foie gras?

On the left: a foie gras liver.
On the right: a normal liver.
(Photo courtesy PETA.
Permission to use freely)

Foie gras - French for "fatty liver" - is the diseased and enlarged liver of a duck or goose, produced through force feeding.

The Animal Protection & Rescue League has investigated all three US foie gras farms and several in France and found rampant cruelty to be the norm. Compassion Over Killing sent an investigator to the largest US farm, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, on a guided tour with a hidden camera and also witnessed the standard cruelty that is required for foie gras production.

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."

In addition to enduring force-feeding, the birds also suffer the same neglectful and abusive treatment of other factory-farmed animals: overcrowding, mutilations (the ends of their beaks are cut off), having 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.

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.

This is all for an overpriced, unhealthy appetizer that anyone can do without.  Please navigate this site to learn more about this issue and what you can do to end this barbaric practice.