The video was filmed in secret on foie gras facilities. It depicts geese in cramped cages, force-fed with tubes.
According to AFP:
“Winslet is the latest British star to speak out against foie gras ... Roger Moore paid for and starred in a poster campaign outside a top London shop in November against the food.”
Foie gras, translated literally from French means "fatty liver," and is considered a delicacy by many.
French cuisine, certainly, wouldn’t be what it is without it. French law even states that "Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.”
But it’s also a highly controversial food, considered by many to be cruel to animals, and Kate Winslet is just the latest of a string of well-known celebrities who are condemning the practice. Others include Roger Moore, Sir Paul McCartney, and the Prince of Wales.
How is Foie Gras Produced?
Traditionally, foie gras was produced from geese, but in recent years the trend has turned toward using ducks instead, mainly because they require less space. The US, for example, use only ducks for their foie gras production.
The most controversial part of the production of foie gras involves a force-feeding process called “gavage,” described here in a report titled the Welfare of Ducks and Geese in Foie Gras Production: A summary of the Scientific and Empirical Evidence:
“During the force-feeding process, the duck is grabbed by the neck, and a metal or plastic tube 8 to 12 inches long is inserted down the esophagus. The desired amount of high fat, high carbohydrate corn mash is pushed through the tube and into the duck's esophagus by either a manual or a pneumatic pump.
The amount of food the birds are forced to ingest is far greater than what they would eat voluntarily. In fact, by the end of the force-feeding period, each ten-pound duck is forced to consume 400 to 500 grams of food a day, approximately one pound of a corn-and-oil mixture (Beck et al, 1996, p. 45).
This is an amount that, for a 175-pound person, would be equivalent to 44 pounds of pasta per day (Gazetta Ufficiale, 2001). The force-feeding process is repeated 2-3 times a day for up to one month.
In order to facilitate the force-feeding process for the farm workers, the ducks are either confined in groups in small pens, or they are restrained in individual cages so small the birds can't turn around or stretch their wings.”
There are also a number of videos available, showing the unpleasant details.
But as you know, there’s a big difference between traditional farming practices and those of modern factory farms, and it would appear that foie gras production is no different.
According to Times Online, geese on traditional French foie gras farms roam free until the last two weeks, at which point they undergo the final fattening-up process, which “can be done so humanely that the birds do not appear to object to it.”
The Telegraph also states that “the French farmers who produce foie gras say that the birds queue up contentedly to be force-fed through tubes down their throats and that, because their throats are flexible and have no gag reflex, they feel no pain.”
Whether or not it’s true that foie gras can, and is, produced humanely in small French farms, this is clearly not the case with larger factory farms, as shown in these photos taken at a Canadian foie gras production facility.
Here, the animals live in complete darkness in cramped, filthy cages, and according to NoFoieGras.org, the ducks are confined inside these dark sheds and force-fed several times a day from the time they’re just a few months old.
In a matter of weeks, “the ducks become grossly overweight and their livers expand up to 10 times their normal size,” they say.
Other Food Production is Cruel Too. Why Target Foie Gras?
That’s the question posed by some in the “pro-foie gras” camp, and if you’ve ever seen how chickens and cattle are raised in factory farms, there’s no denying that animal cruelty goes far beyond foie gras production.
But is it a good enough excuse?
Maybe it simply doesn’t matter, because it should be quite clear by now that ANY meat or food product that comes from a factory farm is often not in the best interest of your health. After all, you really are what you eat, and the meat or any organ from an unhealthy, stressed-out animal is not going to provide you with healthy nutrients.
Still, foie gras production has been banned in 16 countries simply because it’s considered to be too cruel to the animals, including the UK. Unfortunately, all this has done is open the door for mass-production of it in countries like China, which has become somewhat notorious for lacking food quality standards and having little regard for animal welfare.
Foie gras has also been banned from being sold in certain areas in the US, even though the US, like Canada, is a large producer of foie gras. Chicago banned it in April 2006, and California is slated for a ban in 2012. According to Times Online, New Jersey and New York are considering similar bans.
From a health and nutrition perspective, one concern I do not see anyone discuss is the nutritional value of liver that has been fattened up with a mash of oil and corn, particularly considering the fact that nearly all corn used for animal feed (at least in the US) is genetically modified.
In my view, whichever side you take on the animal cruelty issue is perhaps overshadowed by the question of whether or not it can be considered a wholly nutritious part of your diet – especially if it comes from a mass-producing factory farm, where the animals have had almost no free-range exposure to their natural diet. And this is the same for all types of meat, not just the livers of geese or ducks…