Autumn is foie gras season

foiegras

Since last spring I’ve made an effort to visit as many food sources as possible. I’ve been to farms aplenty as well as to a number of food processing plants including a chicken processor, a fish processor, a beef processor, a gluten-free cookie factory, a cheese maker’s plant and a few others. While I learned something at every venue, one of my most enlightening visits was to foie du canard producers La Ferme Palmex.

I love the taste of foie gras and have cooked it and eaten it many, many times; however, I always had a lingering concern about the process of gavage, which is the feeding ritual (often called force feeding) that transforms a web-footed bird’s regular-sized liver into a buttery, yummy lobe of deliciousness.

I visited the brood farm, the gavage barn and the Palmex processing plant. While alive, the birds I visited were kept in clean, orderly conditions at both the brood hen farm and in the gavage barn; while the ducks are free range at the brood farm, they are isolated in pens in the gavage barn. Benoit Cuchet, president of La Ferme Palmex, explained that this isolation is necessary to reduce stress among the ducks. In fact, it prevents the ducks from establishing a pecking order that leads the more aggressive ducks to attack and bully their meeker neighbours.

In the end, I came away feeling relieved about how foie gras gets from a Quebec farm to my Toronto table. Here’s a summary of what I learned about gavage:

• The process of creating foie gras is often criticized for being cruel; however, the same physical changes occur each year about this time in nature when geese and ducks build up fat reserves in their livers and subcutaneous tissues to nourish themselves when they migrate to warmer climates.

• Before the commercial gavage process begins, ducks are allowed to eat and drink any time they like; then, two weeks before gavage commences, their caregivers give them just one hearty meal each day. This change in eating pattern causes their crops (the expanded, muscular pouches near the bird’s gullet or throat that is used to temporarily store food) to begin to open up so that gavage can be a comfortable experience for them.

• Every day before feeding, the barn hands — supervised by Pascal Fleury, the company’s animal welfare specialist — go through a specific set of steps: First they regulate the temperature and humidity of the barn to keep the ducks comfortable. Then, they test the PH content of the water to make sure it is no more and no less than 7.5 to ensure that when it’s blended with the ground corn-based feed the ducks eat that it will be easily digested. Lastly, they check each bird to make sure their crops are open. (If necessary, they will modify an individual duck’s diet to ensure that as the liver grows that the duck is comfortable and healthy.)

• My biggest surprise occurred when I saw how eager the ducks were to see the embuc (that’s the feeding apparatus used to deposit food into the duck’s crop) and to be fed from it. I’d always worried about that part of the process, yet, it was obviously not a worry to the birds! Likewise, the feeding time was so short: it took literally less than 10 seconds for Pascal to feed each bird with the electric embuc he’s moving around in the picture above.

How does my report make you feel? Do you find these details reassuring or disconcerting?

134 Responses to Autumn is foie gras season

  1. I’ve read about farmers exploiting the natural gorging cycle and wasn’t sure what to think. I do feel better about the process having read your report. Interesting that the birds are eager to see that feeding tube. I had visions more in alignment with torture.

    • danamccauley says:

      So did I – I was worried about it to be honest.

    • John says:

      It is good to see that there is some humanity in this process. Places like Chicago have actually banned Foie Gras because the process was believed to over extend the liver in an extremely distressful way.

      • danamccauley says:

        From what I’ve been told, the US chefs ask for large livers and that leads extending the gavage process and the birds being quite distressed. The folks at Palmex recommend shorter gavage time that producers livers of 600 g or less. Better for the bird and better quality foie gras in the end, too. Perhaps the Chicago issue arose from producers who were going for bigger liver production?

      • Susan says:

        As a native Chicagoan, I am happy to report that the “ban” on foie gras no longer exists. The delicacy is so popular in Chicago that there is even a hot dog venue that serves foie gras on hot dogs.

        Re: the post – It’s hard to read, no matter how careful, the duck’s ultimate demise is impending. But my mother always says – how do we know that plants can’t feel anything anyway? So the life cycle goes on.

  2. Barb says:

    My thoughts had gone to the extreme in a bad way about the whole process. Your report is enlightening and claming I guess for me. I suppose they use the whole duck when they butcher and not just the liver?

  3. I’ve been to many foie gras farms in France and never found it distressing. What I find distressing is the way people who don’t know or understand the process make up ideas to get fois gras production outlawed, such as here in California.

  4. Don says:

    Ottawa had a spat with anti-fois gras protesters who did their best to interrupt the regular business of several local restaurants, even protesting in front of the Cordon Bleu campus during an event that was put together for the premiere of Julie and Julia.

    I am glad you chose to write this piece on one of Canada’s 3 major fois gras producers (other two being Elevages Perigord and Aux Champs D’Elisée). Many protesters have never visited a fois gras farm. Yet, they continue to arbitrarily condemn fois gras using material from the hidden video controversy (http://ottawa.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20071001/foie_gras_071001?hub=OttawaHome) in 2007.

    Thank-you for an enlightening read.

    • danamccauley says:

      My pleassure! As I say, I was nervous about this trip when I embarked on it.

      My husband and Steven Beckta of Play Restaurant in Ottawa had a chat about the protests in Ottawa recently. He had protesters outside his doors that affected his business negatively.

      • Don says:

        If I remember the media reports correctly, Play never served fois gras. It was Beckta’s other restaurant that did. However, Play is located in a heavily trafficked area of the Byward Market. Both it and Chef/Owner John Taylor’s Domus were targeted. Between angry phone calls, mountains of threatening e-mail, threats of false allegations to city health inspectors, bull horns that resulted in an arrest, and protestors banging on Play’s windows, both Beckta and Chef Taylor had to give in.

      • Jason says:

        Play did serve foie gras, just not at the time of some of the later demonstrations and outreach campaigns. When asked if they would remove foie gras permanently from their menu Play said they would not and that it is a regular feature. Also, the Ottawa Animal Defense League never threatened any restaurant nor made false allegations. Also, as someone who was present at all the outreach demonstrations, no one ever banged on a restaurant window. Yet again, lazy journalism. Foie gras production is considered so cruel and so inhumane that it is banned in 15 countries. Even the State of California has enacted legislation to ban not only the production of foie gras, but also it’s sale starting in 2012.

  5. gry says:

    true, but someone must stop it

  6. Erik says:

    “My biggest surprise occurred when I saw how eager the ducks were to see the embuc”. That is because the ducks were hungry. This is their only feeding time of the day. Ducks usually feed throughout the day as they get hungry. They seem eager because they know that they finally get something to eat. I believe that this is rightly called force feeding.

  7. Gareth says:

    Thank you for explaining the process clearly. It’s good to know that at least some producers make the process as comfortable and near-natural as possible.

    Erik, force feeding is feeding against the will of the animal. For example, when a hunger striker is fed intravenously, that’s force feeding. Hungry ducks eager to be fed aren’t being force-fed.

    • Jeff says:

      “force feeding is feeding against the will of the animal. For example, when a hunger striker is fed intravenously, that’s force feeding. Hungry ducks eager to be fed aren’t being force-fed.”

      True. This is starvation. That is different–though no less cruel.

  8. Jeff says:

    You could be happy simply eating the duck for nutrition–we need food to survive afterall. But justifying the additional steps taken that include force feeding, extreme containment, etc. of non-human animals simply to make the duck taste better to you is sad. Not sad for the duck, but for the people who find it neccessary to find additional self-pleasure by ‘spicing up’ their lives through the mistreatment of other animals. It is a shame, I think.

    • danamccauley says:

      Jeff, where your argument falls down for me is that by feeding the ducks this way, actually more of the animal is edible.

      While I know that you won’t be convinced by this argument, I just want to point out that without this confinement, the ducks form a pecking order that leads to a lot of cruelty in a free range farm environment. Their fighting leads to wounds which lead to infections which lead to antibiotics being used….farming isn’t pretty in general.

      • thebumblingbaker says:

        funny, I recently visited two groups of ducks, one a group of ducks formerly destined for foie-gras (who looked horrifyingly abnormal) and one a group of what you would call “regular” ducks, and none of them had any wounds. The aggressive ones are separated from the little ones and the sick ones who can’t defend themselves, and that is that.

      • danamccauley says:

        Bumblingbaker, what kind of ducks were the foie gras ducks? The ones at Palmex are Mulard, a cross between Peking and Muscovy. I think they look pretty normal.

        The strategy of sorting the ducks is a good one. I wish I had thought to ask that question.

  9. I think it makes me a little reassured. I suppose it could be a lot worse!!!

    http://www.theprettyproject.com

  10. Mike says:

    interesting to learn about how some of this happens in food production, although – this seems tame compared to some of the atrocities that are out there I’m sure.

  11. danamccauley says:

    Here’s an interesting comment from Facebook made by Hank Shaw a hunter and bloger:

    “I once shot a wild pintail duck with a liver nearly three times the size of a normal duck liver that was precisely the color of foie gras. Thus natural, free-range foie. BOO-YAH!!!”

    http://www.honest-food.net/blog1/

  12. Krista says:

    Dana,

    Congratulations on tackling a very difficult subject with aplomb. I have often felt torn about eating foie gras for the very reasons you cite…I worry that I am endorsing a farming practice that is questionable, if not outright cruel. I am often disheartened by our ability as humans to rationalize the poor treatment of animals for our own benefit. That said, I am not a vegetarian and do eat meat and try to make informed decisions about the food I eat. The farm profiled in your piece appears to take great care to ensure the ducks are as well treated as possible. In my view, this is a very different scenario than the chicken industry which still has a long way to go. While perhaps not a perfect scenario for the ducks, I am pleased that the farm is taking positive steps to try to minimize the suffering of its ducks. We can never be certain of what an “ideal” farming practice might be but we do have good information about what farming practices are totally unacceptable. Things have come a long way in fifty years and I hope that the foie gras industry, as well as the others, keep moving progressively forward.

  13. Daniel says:

    Dana, once again you’ve put out some excellent (and comforting, I might add) reportage. Interesting that the birds WANT the embuc!

    Dan
    Casual Kitchen

  14. Heather Li says:

    I definitely do not need convincing to eat foie gras; nor any reasoning to alleviate myself of guilt (because I have none).

    I really liked this post though because it is very informative, but I can see the “holes” in it that anti-foie gras/”pro-animal” people would make. I’m sure it would go something along the lines like, “These farmers have manipulated the ducks and themselves into thinking they’re being treated better; but natural gorging by ducks and force-feeding — even if they appear ‘eager’ — are two very different things. You are sending innocents to the slaughterhouse,” and on and on and on.

    My main problem with the whole anti-foie gras rally is that mistreatment of ducks, be what it may, is nothing compared to the beef and poultry industries. But it is much harder to attack and get a ban on those products because the companies are so huge, and have so much money, you might as well be fighting the government. So people go after a much smaller, essentially powerless industry.

    P.S. If you haven’t read it, I really liked Sasha Chapman’s Toronto Life piece on visiting a foie gras farm a couple of years back: http://www.torontolife.com/features/sitting-ducks/

  15. barbara says:

    Don’t you have ANY, ANY life remaining in your soul ? That picture alone is terrifying for someone who’s alive at heart… Shame on you all for eating something that causes so much suffering for your pleasure. Shame on you….

    • Heather Li says:

      We have lots of life remaining in our souls, including yummy foie gras satisfying our tummies.

    • Lori says:

      I agree with Barbara. Why is it that even spanking a child gently, is called abuse and yet starving an animal in a ridiculously small confinement, until it’s willing to be force fed, considered less cruel? And all this for a meal for someone? there are plenty of other foods available that do not involve these inhumane methods.These animals have feelings. I would respectively ask that anyone who comes across this page for just one minute, imagine how you would feel if this were being done to you. i do not intend to visit this page again. It’s just plain cruel no matter how you justify it.

    • Adam says:

      *This is a delicacy not a meal. In no way is foie gras a necessary or healthful part of one’s diet.

      *This is a lame effort to justify inappropriate treatment of sentient creatures for personal pleasure.

      *For shame.

    • Gareth says:

      Studies have shown that plants cringe in fear when they are being harvested. Have you vegetarians no shame?

      Please, get real. All life on planet Earth consumes life to survive. In the wild, most plants and animals are consumed, at least in part, while still living. That’s not cruelty, that’s the way of nature.

  16. agent58 says:

    Wow, I didn’t know that takes place.

  17. FoisGrasEater says:

    Barbara are you a vegetarian…I hope the fruit and vegetables you eat aren’t mistreated before they get to your grocery store-hope they aren’t suffering and withering in the fields–that would truly be a shame.

  18. I stumbled across your blog on the front page of WordPress.

    My friend Mark Caro wrote about about this: http://www.salon.com/mwt/food/eat_drink/2009/03/19/foie_gras/

    It’s interesting to read the description of your visit to the farm.

  19. vegantess says:

    I also stumbled across your blog on the front page of wordpress. I’m still trying to pick myself up.

    Earlier in my life I also chose to turn a blind eye toward the cruelty of factory farming, including the foie gras industry. If I truly saw the appalling way we treat factory farm animals it would mean that I could no longer eat their flesh without guilt. How selfish of me, I eventually decided. Gathering the the courage to watch the horrible and beautiful movie narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, ‘Earthlings’, reading ‘The China Study’ and ‘Dominion’ made it easy to stop eating the flesh of animals.

    • danamccauley says:

      vegantess, I am glad you’ve found a way to eat and live that works for you. While I couldn’t be a happy vegan I am always pleased to see other people happy with their lifestyle choices.

      That said, I have to call bullshit on your shock at my post. On the wordpress home page this picture and the words foie gras were prominently displayed. I can’t imagine why a vegan with no interest in eating meat and meat products would have clicked on it with any expectation of it being a post that would dovetail with your lifestyle choices. So, please admit that your feigning shock and trying to initiate your own agenda.

      • vegantess says:

        (my replies to your acid-toned reply are in parentheses)
        vegantess, I am glad you’ve found a way to eat and live that works for you.(no, you’re not) While I couldn’t be a happy vegan (Dana, I don’t think you are happy period) I am always pleased to see other people happy with their lifestyle choices (judging from the patronizing tone of your reply, I don’t think you are).
        That said, I have to call bullshit (cursing is a sign that I hit a raw cord with you – perhaps the truth?) on your shock at my post. On the wordpress home page this picture and the words foie gras were prominently displayed. (Put your glasses on and look at it again, Dana – it says “Autumn is Foie Gras Season Dana McCauley’s Food Blog” and the photo – well, first of all I have absolutely no idea who you are, I have never heard of you before, you could have been a vegan food blogger for all I knew who was lamenting that the season of treating geese cruelly was upon us again … and, not to mention, that as an open-minded person, an open mind that led me to choose veganism, I keep abreast of ALL information regarding animals, especially farm factory animals. Not to do so would go against my quest to learn as much as possible, the good and the bad, about our world and how we impact it – so I can make an INFORMED decision.) I can’t imagine why a vegan with no interest (it’s called “choice”, not “interest”, Dana) in eating meat and meat products would have clicked on it with any expectation of it being a post that would dovetail with your lifestyle choices. So, please admit that your feigning shock (the day I am not shocked by the way humans treat factory farmed animals is the day I have no heart) and trying to initiate your own agenda.

        p.s. – are you going to have the balls to watch Earthlings http://vegtv.info/earthlings or will you choose to remain in the dark – like a veal calf?)

      • danamccauley says:

        Please don’t be mistaken. I wasn’t being acid toned when I commended you on being happy with your food choices and lifestyle. I mean it, truly. I think different philosophies work for different people.

        I was just asking you to own your philosophy the way I and so many others who’ve commented here own theirs. Please don’t hide behind a guise that you got to this post to share your perspecitve accidentally when it is so very highly improbable that you did.

        I asked people to share their opinions in my initial post because I’m genuinely interested in them so feel comfortable expressing yourself here. When I’m acid tongued to you, you’ll know it! (Kinda like now).

      • americanvegan says:

        I am perplexed as to why do you need this person to “admit she was lying” when clearly she wasn’t? Why do you think she is not “owning her philosophy”? Your comments are so cripplingly condescending now *I* am in shock. Many vegans chose to stay involved by continuing to educate themselves on animal issues. Insulating yourself from the tough issues does nothing… staying involved and aware, however, keeps you informed. It was not clear from your blog pic or title whether you were for or against this process. Either way, it is of interest to me, as I care about animal issues. I don’t think anyone is “hiding behind ANY guises” here. It seems to me people are being quite honest about their beliefs.

      • vegantess says:

        Who died and made you the judge of who is mistaken or not? And, you are being acid-toned in your replies.

        It was quite clear that I was ‘owning’ my philosophy. And how can I be hiding behind a guise? The same could be said of you or any of the pro or con posters here. So, what is you point?

        Stop skirting the issue that your ‘education’ on factory farming practices is obviously selective.

      • Cara says:

        “I was just asking you to own your philosophy the way I and so many others who’ve commented here own theirs. Please don’t hide behind a guise that you got to this post to share your perspecitve accidentally when it is so very highly improbable that you did.”

        Dana, you may be writing this as your personal journal, but you are promoting it like feature journalism. Do you truly ‘own your philosophy’ as you claim? Are you truly open to learning as well as interested in promoting yourself and your food writing?

        You may be interested to know that your post (and others you’ve done) are being discussed in a large vegan forum, and that some comments here (myself included) are from members of that site, the PostPunk Kitchen forums’ ‘Parlor’ forum (http://www.postpunkkitchen.com/forum). In that community, individuals who also love food and cooking, and who are concerned with healthy and sustainable choices, as well as ethical and political concerns, often debate such issues. It is far from an irrational community. I invite you to read comments there.

      • danamccauley says:

        Thanks for the invite. I actually was there yesterday – I can follow where the referrals to my site come from. Good to know I’m welcome.

  20. Ness says:

    I’m sorry, but receiving your assurances about how this “naturally” occurs in ducks annually, and that the birds are healthy and happy is like going to Benson&Hedges for information about the dangers of tobacco. Biased? You bet.

  21. […] Ducks and Cheese September 19, 2009 Posted by philr06 in Uncategorized. trackback Cheese Corner […]

  22. saragron says:

    Thank you for a most enlightening post.

    As a reply to some of the above statements: One cannot justify one error with another, ie not justify the duck industry by claming that another industry, that of poultry, is worse. And to try to bring hte “vegetable feels pain too” argument into this is a pathetic effort to hit below the belt. It doesn’t work though.

    I find the picture you have posted, Dana, simply terrifying. Although they are clean, I see no attempt to allow the ducks to be ducks. To swim, to forage, to enjoy sunshine. You seem to think that this is justified by saying that free range ducks hurt one another. Well, is free range natural habitat for ducks?

    I am not naïve and I don’t think that a future without meat is anywhere near, nor do I think that this farm you have visited is the worst and first that should be dealt with, but I really do find this whole discussion scary. It is so clear to me that we have detached them from nature and are criminals by doing so.

  23. americanvegan says:

    I am glad to see that you were concerned about the ducks’ welfare, and that you went to see for yourself about the conditions. Unfortunately, if you really don’t want to feel guilt about doing something, you can usually find a way to feel better about it- whether it is true or not. Like the poster before me stated, what you fail to see is that the ducks in this picture, while clean, have no semblance of a natural life. Who are we to take that from them? Please try and put yourself in their place. Since you said you were interested on educating yourself about the origins of your food, please watch Earthlings, an award winning documentary on animal treatment around the world.

    Also, as a nurse, I can tell you that eating foie gras noes absolutely nothing for your health, your heart or your cholesterol. You are literally eating a toxin filter that is mostly comprised of said toxins, cholesterol and fat. The combination of the cruelty through which it is obtained on top of the negative health implications, has always made it abundantly clear to me that foie gras would never be on my plate….long before I was even vegetarian.

  24. tarkus says:

    Humans beings live to justify the cruelty they inflict.

    Hopefully in the future foie gras will be seen for the barbaric practice that it is.

  25. Cindy Dyer says:

    Thank you for explaining the process. I still think it is a horrible and unnecessary process. Just looking at the photo of those ducks penned in so tight they can’t turn—awful.

    And I feel anyone who eats foie gras (and knows where it comes from and what the process is) is completely heartless. If humans stopped demanding it, the process would cease.

  26. Shaun says:

    Hi Dana,

    Glad I came across your blog.

    A question about the picture – are these cages the birds are in just for feeding? Do they have more room when they are not being fed?

    To those who question the natural inclination for ducks to stuff themselves as winter approaches, I found this tidbit on KQED’s Bay Area Bites blog, about a French goose steward: (http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/2009/02/01/foie-gras-duck-duck-goose/ )

    “Sousa didn’t practice gavage; instead, he followed the geese’s natural inclination to stuff themselves before winter. Come fall, as the days shortened and the temperatures dropped, he increased the amount of food available to his geese. They gobbled, and then, fat and happy, they met their end. Living on an herb-rich pasture as well as grains, their meat was layered with flavor, pre-seasoned from the inside out. “Who was the chef,” [Dan] Barber found himself asking as he ate with Sousa, “And who was the farmer?”

    Back home in New York City, Barber did his research: Sousa’s method, he claimed, was the origin of foie gras. As Barber told it, Jewish communities in Egypt enjoyed foie gras as a natural by-product of winter-slaughtered geese. Upon tasting it, the pharoh demanded a year-round supply of the delicacy for the court, and so gavage was invented, to mimic the natural autumn voracity of the birds.”

  27. Jason says:

    I thought you might be intersted in reading a recent report by Dr. Ian Duncan, a world-renowned expert in poultry welfare and Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph. The title of the report is The Scientific Case Against Foie Gras.
    http://www.spca.bc.ca/foiegras/FoieGrasScientificReport_2009.pdf

  28. Jason says:

    Video from inside three Quebec foie gras farms including Palmex. This is video taken by a worker when reporters are not around.


    • danamccauley says:

      Jason, can you tell me when these videos were taken? I spent the entire day with the president of Palmex and, as mentioned above, visited three of their facilities and dozens of their employees. This is not the kind of operation I saw or the type of people I met. I was very impressed by the care and attention everyone devoted to the live animals I met.

      When I wrote my article on horsemeat earlier this summer, it was interesting that many of the stats and offences that were listed by activists were quite dated.

      • Nebraska says:

        As long as humans continue using animals for food, especially in a factory farm setting, there will always be abuses. People as a whole cannot be trusted to put the welfare of the animals above their profit margins.

  29. Jason says:

    One last comment. The birds used on Palmex foie gras farms are not migratory birds, so they do not fatten up their livers for migration by overeating. Ducks and geese that DO migrate do not overeat to the point where their livers are 8-10 times their normal size, diseased, and bringing them to the point of death. It’s becoming exhausting arguing these points with lazy journalists who take the word of foie gras producers. I suggest you read Dr. Ian Duncan’s report posted previously and perhaps give him a call to discuss this. It never hurts to get an experts opinion.

    • danamccauley says:

      I will read Dr.Duncan’s report but I can tell you that the livers I saw were not diseased and that the man pictured above has been involved in studies where these same ducks were fattened, and then allowed to slim down (mimicking the seasonal cycle that occurs in nature) and were perfectly healthy afterwards. They wre never brought to the brink of death.

      Thanks for your comments and for linking to Dr.Duncan’s report.

      • americanvegan says:

        Technically, livers are by their nature diseased. They are not meant for consumption, see my previous post, as they are full of the toxins they filter, cholesterol and fat. Foie Gras goose livers are even fattier than a normal liver because of their unnatural force feeding. Also, how would you know if the livers you saw were diseased just by looking at them? Are you able to see the germs on your hands? Please stop sugar coating this cruel practice, your denial is quite impressive. If you want to eat foie gras that, unfortunately, is your prerogative. Just don’t try and make it sound like it’s all rainbows and sunshine.

      • danamccauley says:

        The CFIA, who inspects the food sold to Canadians obviously does think liver is for consumption since liver or all kinds is routinely sold in stores and restaurants across the country.

      • americanvegan says:

        You are going to quote a government org saying that something is healthy to consume? Really? Do we learn anything from the past? How long was it before it was commonly accepted that cigarettes are bad for you? Just because something is sold in the store does NOT necessarily make it fit for consumption or healthy by any means. Ever wonder why Americans are on more high cholesterol meds than ever? Or why diabetes, heart disease and obesity continue to be the leading causes of premature death? These are all diet related diseases that can be literally cured with a radical change in….you guess it….diet! The Foie Gras industry (and other too) would have a FIT if the government actually came out with honest reports of just how unhealthy much the food we eat is. It all comes down to money. Instead of watching commercials for new anti cholesterol meds, we should be being taught that the reason why you have it is from your fatty animal protein rich diet. Self-control and a little sacrifice never hurt anyone. I didn’t stop eating meat because I didn’t like it. I stopped because it was the humane choice for animals and the healthy choice for me.

        I’m done. This has become pointless and obsolete. See you in a few years, post heart attack, in my ER.

  30. Ron says:

    Animals and were put on this earth by GOD to serve and feed mankind, not to get of on a bent that all we can eat is vegitables.
    Thanks for the great insight of foi gras – I will continue to enjoy. To hell with all the oppositaton and animals right people.

    ex. snale darter smelth fish – where farmers and works are starving because of some crazy bent of “DO NOT KILL THE POOR LITTLE FISHE”

    • americanvegan says:

      Your intelligence comes across loud and clear through your keen wording and precise grammar.

      If you want to bring God into the picture, not a problem. I’m a Christian and am a vegan as well. In fact, I find peace and am stronger in my Christianity via my cruelty free lifestyle. If you recall, the ideal world that God created for us was the Garden of Eden. We ate no animals there, they were our brethren and our equals and we walked the earth side by side. However, that changed with the fall of man and we were forced to live in a bleaker world. Trust me, God would not approve of the conditions and the cruelty we inflict upon animals in order for us to eat them. Animals are His Creation, do you think He wants us to torture them as we do on factory farms? I think not. I believe I am respecting God’s Earth more, and living closer to what He intended, by living a vegan and cruelty- free life.

  31. tarkus says:

    Gotta love how the anti-animal rights crowd peanut gallery can’t spell.

  32. This was an interesting post but it did not make me particulalrly reassured. Seeing the poultry confined in their little cages “for their protection” made me sick, it reminds me of the confinement of hogs in CAFO where they claim that the pigs have to be put in tiny cages to protect their babies when the pigs pictured are not mothers but animals being fattened for slaughter. Those ducks are not living a normal life, and I agree with a previous commenter, they are anxious to eat because it is their only meal that day. They are hungry.

    I do not eat any liver that did not belong to an animal that I personally have knowledge of what chemicals and antibiotics they are being exposed to simply because the liver is the place where toxins are collected and dealt with by the organism.

    I ate foie gras once when it was available as an appetizer on a cruise. I did not think it tasted that good, just gently sauteed fat. I wondered what the attraction was. At any rate, my knowledge of how this “food stuff” was produced definitely got in the way of my enjoyment, and having seen your post trying to make it all seem so “natural” and “healthy” and “right” has not changed my opinion of the practice.

    You make the point that the video of the conditions posted by Jason above is not indicative of the conditions of the farm you visited seems disingenuous to me. This all makes me wonder how many farms look like the one you saw and how many looked like Jason’s?

  33. americanvegan says:

    Just found this on your previous entry from July 16th. Your description of horsemeat:

    “• It has a close, compact texture
    • Colts are favoured as the most delicious
    • It is sweeter flavoured, lighter and less fatty than beef
    • It’s highly esteemed as a meat choice when making tartar
    • It goes bad faster than other meats so it must be consumed when very fresh or frozen before use.”

    You have no heart.

  34. Tristan says:

    I would call chopping off their heads, and ripping out their guts “torture”. But I suppose that if you like a nice yummy little taste treat, then who cares about a little torture.

  35. Stacey says:

    I care about animal suffering and clicked on this post with the goal of (maybe?) helping to educate others. I’m all about education and awareness. If what you have shared is indeed true, it is a partial relief to know that these animals are treated with some concern to their well being however what about when these animals are slaughtered? Are they killed instantly? I have known about the force-feeding process for quite sometime but not exactly sure of how they are killed? I know it’s a tradition to eat meat but how about having a heart? Why is it that the majority of people don’t care about “food” animals but will reach out a helping hand to a dog or cat in need? Why are most people hypocrites? Why can’t they make the connection that there is no difference between a cow, a pig, a turkey, a dog, a cat, etc.? An animal is an animal! Sure, they look different but they are the same! Some of the comments here are cold, sad and shameful. Does anyone actually care about what an animal goes through in its last moments of life? What an animal feels while being killed/dismembered? For most farm animals, I have heard many are slaughtered while still conscious! Where is compassion in today’s society??

  36. Desdemona says:

    Do you really, actually want to know “how this makes [your readers] feel?” Because the fact is that neither of your suggested answers–“reassuring” or “disconcerting”–really applies here. How I feel is nauseated, disgusted, and not a little despairing that people’s greed, selfishness, ignorance and lack of compassion allow them to continue participating in the needless exploitation of other living creatures in order to satisfy their craving for “buttery lobe[s] of deliciousness.” Here’s a news flash, Ms. McCauley: ducks have livers for the same reason you do, and providing your privileged maw with the result of being force-fed in captivity isn’t it. No matter how much you try to assuage your guilt by interpreting this process as somehow pleasurable, I can’t help wondering how “eager” you’d be to see someone many times your size approaching with an electric embuc. THAT’S how your blog post makes me “feel.” Bon appetit!

  37. Jordan says:

    This is just disgusting – absolutely, utterly appalling. Your frantic rationalizations have made me feel literally ill.

  38. Cindy Dyer says:

    You can’t expect to blog about such a cruel process (and justify your consumption of the end result) without getting some ire from those who differ. It’s the nature of blogging (and putting your opinion out there in the first place). I appreciate that you are willing to go out and discover where the food you eat comes from (so few of us really do have the guts to do so), but there is no way on earth you can justify force feeding these animals, regardless of the fact that the entire animal is consumed later (not just the liver). It’s torture before execution, a simple and undeniable truth. You don’t have to justify your consumption—it is what it is. I just think it’s horrible that ANYONE can try and justify this process—no matter how “humane” the processors try to make it look. The fact that the ducks can “run around free” prior to “incarceration” means nothing. I think it’s a sad, sad thing. It’s sad that animals are tortured this way (and it IS torture). It’s sad that consumers like you can justify it on ANY level. Adding in the health factor for human consumption, well—is there ANY reason this process should exist? I think not. I do appreciate that you have posted this blog—it opens up a dialogue that needs to be explored, regardless of how upset people get. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It starts with one person at a time—making decisions to first honor animals and their right to life, and then second to preserve our own health.

    Re: the government “obviously does think liver is for consumption,” isn’t a valid argument. Soda is legal and approved and it’s horrible for us. Even I, as a sometimes-drinks-too-much-soda-person, know that it’s a terrible choice for me. Tobacco isn’t illegal. We all know how bad that product is for you. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it good or right. Government-run health care will be a disaster. It doesn’t make it good or right just because it exists.

    Did that company know you were coming to interview them? Do you think that perhaps they “clean up” a bit and downplayed the reality so it would be more palatable to a consumer? I don’t care how clean their facilities are or if they let the ducks run free beforehand. Whoever discovered that force feeding an animal would make for a delicious treat afterwards should be force fed and see how they feel. It’s horrible and there’s no way it can be justified.

    I’m glad that everyone who has posted is passionate about their stance on the issue. You shouldn’t expect otherwise. I appreciate your honesty in your posting, though.

  39. Moe says:

    Desdemona, Jordan and Cindy Dyer said it. It sucks that you’re happy to delude yourself into ignoring the suffering of others because you simply like the taste of something. I too would recommend the report: http://www.spca.bc.ca/foiegras/FoieGrasScientificReport_2009.pdf

  40. Heather Li says:

    I haven’t gone through all the nay-saying posts, but I’m going to believe all of them are strict vegans because the consumption of duck livers may be cruel but so is industrial beef and poultry.

    People who say “shame on you,” you make it sound like eating foie gras is the worst thing we could ever do on this earth.

    • tarkus says:

      An act doesn’t have to be “the worst thing we could ever do on this earth” in order for it to be pointlessly cruel and selfish.

  41. Charmaine says:

    Wow, hot topic! Bravo for writing about so many interesting food issues, even the tough ones.

    • danamccauley says:

      My pleasure! Thanks for reading. I sometimes feel like I’m a fool for putting my opinions out there but in the end I hope that these discussions are helpful and promote others to give these topics some thought. I have no interest in converting anyone but I do like to see what everyone – even those that disagree with me – have to say.

  42. Glenn says:

    I just have to chime in that the photo alone makes me think that foie gras production is bad. Confining animals in cages so small that they can’t turn around is torture in and of itself. I mean, imagine being confined like that yourself… How do you think it feels for waterfowl to be kept away from every single instinctive behaviour that they have? It’s completely tragic, and that single photo tells enough of the sad story for me.

  43. KnowThankYou says:

    It is disappointing that you have seen the conditions you describe in the post and condone them as reassuringly positive. There are laws that prevent humans from being held and treated in such ways because the fact that humans feel physical and mental pain is acknowledged. In some parts of the world it has been acknowledged that non-English and non-French speakers, such as ducks and geese, also experience pain. Although foie gras and production facilities like the one you visited are banned other places in the world, it appears that the Canadian government has yet to reach this level of enlightenment. I am honestly surprised; I thought Canada was more advanced than the United States on matters of compassion and animal law.
    “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” – Albert Schweitzer

  44. Cara says:

    Dana, your carefully crafted post reads like an ad for the foie gras industry. Just as someone said – it’s like Benson & Hedges reassuring the disconcerted public that yes, great care is taken to ensure that the paper filters are produced in sterile environments.

    I am vegan but my reaction will take a different perspective, since others have done a great job I don’t need to replicate, and since you appear to need to justify foie gras (happy ducks!). This commentary of yours is disappointingly devoid of what some would call critical thinking, presenting an one-sided perspective. Where is your further research into the industry? I don’t really care, frankly. Only you can answer the question of whether you sidestepped the hard questions or accepted soft answers too readily.

    • danamccauley says:

      I’ll point out that this blog is my food writer’s diary. THese posts aren’t intended to be exhaustive analyses of any topic just my perspective. Whether my thinking is critical or otherwise, these are my personal opinions based on my personal experience.

      In this instance, I had a much more grizzly mental picture of what gavage was like and I did indeed come away reassured that it isn’t as bad as many reports I’ve heard before.

  45. Vic says:

    No mattter how pretty a photo is made of those ducks, they are prevented from moving and isolated from one another. Isolation is torture, no matter what species you are. One imagines that the ducks look forward to the feeding tube because it is something to do in an otherwise horribly sterile existence. I love foie gras and still eat it (very rarely). I have given up veal entirely and am starting to purchase only free range chickens and eggs in response to the horrible way these animals are raised and processed.

  46. Misty Evans says:

    This is ridiculous on many levels. Let’s deconstruct your argument. You say that the birds are only fed once per day, then say how surprised you were to see them happy about the tool used to force feed them. Common sense would imply because they are STARVING by the time the thing comes around. In humans an enlarged liver is called HEPATITIS. It’s a condition that’s painful, and can cause death.

    I don’t even believe this post was written by a real person, it sounds like industry propaghanda. Animals, as much as they are not human, are still sentient beings. Not that I am against people eating meat, but commercially grown or manipulated animals is wrong on a lot of levels that I don’t have the time or patience to go into. My best advice is to not trust something that people who are making money off of an industry tell you about the industry. It’s like asking a cotton farmer 200 years ago if he thought African people had feelings. Not to compare such different issues, but it’s absolutely insane to believe anything that someone personally invested in an industry has to say. Of course the duck farmers are going to say how wonderful they treat the birds. What else are they going to say? “Oh the birds are uncomfortable, force fed, and diseased?”. No I don’t think so.

    • Alyssa says:

      I’m just going to nitpick here. A fattened liver is not a diseased one.

      When someone gets Hepatitis, their liver becomes swollen and inflamed due to infection. Could people eat an infected liver? No, they couldn’t.

      A goose that’s been fed excessively has its liver swell, but there’s no hardening or cellular degeneration. Plus, when they’re released (if they don’t get eaten, num) the liver returns to normal.

      Please don’t use medical jargon incorrectly.

  47. Andy Chester says:

    WHAT A GREAT BLOG. IM FROM MALAYSIA AND THIS IS MY 1ST TIME FOUND THIS BLOG. GOTTA LINK IT! ANYWAY WELCOME TO MY BLOG :’)

  48. Weayaya says:

    Most of these comments – and your original article -miss an important point entirely. Whether this process is cruel or not (and I believe that it is, despite you trying to assuage your conscience and to reassure other foie gras eaters that they are doing no wrong) these animals are being bred and killed to satisfy the expensive tastes of western consumers. Not to satisfy hunger in a basic sense, but simply to offer a delicacy which is entirely unneccessary to human survival but which people like you feel you have a right to eat.

    I find this disgusting and very, very sad.

  49. Rodrigo says:

    Go vegan, people.. Meat is murder….

  50. Diana says:

    I am thinking about buying foie gras but I just remember the cruelty of gavage and any cruelty when killing an animal for food, and then I think I had to be vegetarian but I have no will….. I need to go vegetarian. well this video illustrates how the problem can be solve.

    Check it out!!!!

  51. David says:

    Since this all-natural same physical changes occur each year about this time in nature why don’t we just have ‘organic’ foie gras each year at this time then!?! Why use gavage???

    “… I saw how eager the ducks were to see the embuc…”
    OMG OMG I can’t believe my eyes – just goes to show to what extent people r willing to go to justify their follies
    Simply unbelievable

  52. David says:

    Since this all-natural same physical changes occur each year about this time in nature why don’t we just have ‘organic’ foie gras each year at this time then!?! Why use gavage???

    “… I saw how eager the ducks were to see the embuc…”
    OMG OMG I can’t believe my eyes – just goes to show to what extent people r willing to go to justify their follies

  53. larraz says:

    Reading your text I want to vomit. Preferably above you.

  54. Wow! That’s a very good idea. Thanks for sharing it.

  55. Deborah says:

    I would like to address americanvegan with regard to their opinion on fatty animal protein. It is a fact that the French who live in the southwest of France, where 80% of Frances’ foie gras comes, from have Europe’s longest life expectancy. I lived there myself for 5 years and I can tell you it’s not just what one eats that keeps one healthy.In addition to the foie gras, they eat cheese, croissants, drink wine. The French exercise; they walk after lunch every day, they cycle. Their portion sizes are less than half the size of what most Americans call normal. They do not snack. In short, they live a life of moderation. And their food is of very good quality with responsible animal husbandry and far less genetically modified produce. I agree with americanvegan that the American diet and lifestyle is the reason why so many in that country need prescription drugs just to survive.It cannot be blamed simply on the consumption of meat, however. All aspects of the patients’ lifestyle must be taken into consideration.

    • danamccauley says:

      Very interesting comment about portion sizes. Even as a Canadian (where portion sizes are often very large), I’m sometime shocked by how much food is served at American restaurants. Especially at the fast casual level. For instance, I ate at a cheesecake factory once and was served a bowl of pasta the same size I’d make for my family of three!

  56. Ron says:

    As I am sitting down to Thanksgiving diner and enjoying foie gras I will be thinking of all you VEGAN’s enjoying you Beans & Prunes spread on you slice of day old bread (unlessw you baked that morning. Great piece on “This is the season”

  57. barbara says:

    1st thank goodness for men like Jeff and Adam and women like Lori and all the other intelligent and gentle souls who replied.

    2nd Vegetables DO NOT HAVE A CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM so stop the useless comparison. And if you really believe vegetables feel pain, well, the animals you eat are fed on tons of vegetables, so you’re still the worst offenders…

    3rd I had to laugh out loud at the idea that some of you think vegans have old bread and other crappy stuff to eat. You HAVE NO IDEA the gourmet food we eat!! NO IDEA !! You’re a bunch of insensitive cruel souls and life will pay you back accordingly thankfully….

  58. barbara says:

    I’m really sorry for you Dana…… You must have a very sad life if you can’t see the beauty of a free animal… Bye

  59. Andrea says:

    Speaking as a pescitarian (yes, I know that fish are animals too):

    “reassuring or disconcerting?”

    It’s disconcerting that the ducks are starving until that one big meal when they’re begging for it. It’s of a LITTLE reassurance that they’re not force-fed and that they’re isolated and made comfortable.

    However (big “but”) it’s not like I don’t know that meat comes from animals that were once alive.

    As people we (hopefully) make informed choices. Either we decide that eating animals is wrong or we eat for pleasure and enjoy it.

    An overall response to the comments:

    In no way to we NEED meat products to survive. It’s a luxury. However, we are at the top of the food chain and have always eaten meat. I envision a world where all meat that carnivores/omnivores eat comes from animals that lead happy, healthy lives and met painless deaths. I don’t think that we have to cease eating meat completely but I think that we have to make conscious, sensitive choices.

    People can argue either side all they want but in the end it’s up to individuals to decide what feels comfortable for them, without shame or guilt.

    To those who make the argument of “How do you know that plants don’t feel pain”: Plants don’t have a central nervous system. That argument is a dumb-ass, weak comment that people make when they want to be right. Sadly, this argument is often made out of defense towards self-righteous vegans (I’m NOT referring to call vegans as such) and in the end both sides end up sounding like jerks and risk giving people of their ideology a bad rep. Not all omnivores are that ignorant and not all fanatical vegans are self-righteous and condescending. I really do believe that we can co-exist and that each side can balance each other out and keep one another in check if we’re not jerks about it. Humans are passionate about their opinions though, and with passion comes friction (wow, that wasn’t intended to sound like a condom ad but now I can’t bring myself to edit it…).

  60. Andrea says:

    Forgot to mention:

    “americanvegan” is correct in stating that by nature, liver is toxic. The toxins that they filter are still there when eaten. This is another reason people need to be conscious of where their food comes from. “Eat at your own risk.”

    The toxicity of liver is one of those obvious things that we never think about until we have one of those “Hey, I never thought of that but it makes so much sense!” moments.

    • danamccauley says:

      Yes and no. Many safe to eat foods that are vegetarian also contain toxins including cassava, mushrooms (like morels), almonds, cherries, fiddleheads and cashews. But to say that that makes these foods diseased is not correct.

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  62. Dear Dana,

    I conducted an undercover investigation at exactly this facility when conditions were not so staged and things were very, very different. You can see the full report here: http://www.animals-angels.com/index.php?pageID=521.

    By the way, that reaction in the birds that you misinterpret as “anticipation” to be fed, was in fact a fear response in the birds. They open their mouths to pant as they begin to panic at the sight of the massive metal gavage container.

    Because their bodies are so over-loaded with calories the birds are always hot and pant to try to rid themselves of some of the excess heat. Seeing the machine triggers fear, making them open their mouths wider to pant harder.

    There is nothing remotely comforting about confining and force-feeding a duck for something as trivial as a cracker-topping.

    Twyla Francois
    Head of Investigation
    Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals

  63. JimmyBean says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  64. […] not a big organ meat fan. Other than fatty foie gras I could easily go the rest of my life without eating it […]

  65. Barbara Steinberg says:

    I find your commentary on the foie gras farms and production disconcering and inaccurate.
    Force feeding tubes scratch the esophagus of the ducks and throats and the force feeding process is unlike the natural gorging of some ducks that migrate . The ducks they use in foie gras do not naturally migrate for starters . The ducks have no choice and afraid and obviously cannot refuse the force feeding . They are trained sort of speak to accept it yet it breaks down their spirit much like prison camps do . The ducks do not choose this . What comes to mind is the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel where the wicked witch fattens up the children to be eaten . IT is cruel in both cases .
    Have a heart .
    Foie gras studies show that those who eat it tend towards ALzeimer’s disease, Type 2 Diabetes and Arthritis .
    If you continue to eat this , you are supporting cruelty to animals and disease of humans .

  66. KMacDonald says:

    Birds store fat in their livers unlike humans. Before migrating they do gorge themselves to store energy for their long flight. There is ethical foie gras avalible, look at the work Eduardo Souza is doing in Spain;

    I am a cook and enjoy foie gras. I want to get the ethical foie gras, avaliblity is scarce in North America. I have used the Rougie foie gras from the Palmex farms because I have heard about the conditions heir birds are raised in. They also have a HACCP program in place to ensure quality. I refuse to buy foie gras through Sysco as they are supplied by Elecages Perigord, which is known for abuse.

    • danamccauley says:

      Totally agree with you. HACCP is a reassuring food safety feature. My husband’s partner found a wonderful foie gras farm in the Charlevoix region of Quebec but the extra distance and the fact that they weren’t federally inspected made them ultimately choose the Palmex product. I’m also not a fan of the Hudson Valley foie gras since it is fed until the livers are so terribly large. I do think the birds become very uncomfortable and truthfully, those big livers render so much that it’s hardly worth it to buy big anyhow.

  67. Scott says:

    I stopped eating meat after seeing this kind of stuff. This is really awful, and while people like you Dana, will never change, many of us are compelled by our humanity to stop this disgusting stuff. You should be ashamed for promoting it.

  68. I think it’s very sad and shameful that you see no problem with this so-called “delicacy”. I think it is absurd and despicable what is done to these birds — they are atrocities and pure evil.

  69. I don’t think its cruelty. My assessment was it just a simple process of how ducks being take care off.

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  70. There are right ways how to take good care of ducks and other animals. If there has been cruelty among those people who do this for business, I am pretty sure they will have to be responsible in they’re deeds.

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  76. I wonder how would we feel if we were these ducks?
    Foie gras can so easily be replaced by so many pulse-based products that have no connection whatsoever with the slightest hint to torture… but of course, who cares?….

  77. Antoine says:

    Foie Gras is banned in A LOT of country (google it…), it should be worldwide!!! this is torture guys! open your eyes

  78. kamala says:

    BULLSHIT

  79. Heartbroken says:

    You have certainly done a fine job of covering up the suffering these gentle creatures are going through. To confine ducks to cages so small they can’t move their bodies or spread their wings is torture. Then you shove pipes down their throats and force feed them. Don’t you see how cruel this is and that it must end!

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