Foie gras controversy

The controversial production of foie gras (the liver of a duck or a goose that has been specially fattened) involves force-feeding birds more food than they would eat in the wild, and much more than they would voluntarily eat domestically. The feed, usually corn boiled with fat (to facilitate ingestion), deposits large amounts of fat in the liver, thereby producing the buttery consistency sought by the gastronome.


See also Force-feeding of animals

Animal rights and welfare groups

Animal rights and welfare groups such as PETA, Farm Sanctuary and the Humane Society of the United States contend that foie gras production methods, and force feeding in particular, consist of cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. Specific complaints include livers swollen to many times their normal size, impaired liver function, expansion of the abdomen making it difficult for birds to walk, death if the force feeding is continued, and scarring of the esophagus.

PETA claims that the insertion and removal of the feeding tube scratch the throat and the esophagus, causing irritations and wounds and thus exposing the animal to risk of mortal infections.

In 2001, the Director of the New York State Government Affairs & Public Policy Dept. for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wrote a letter to then NYS Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer, asking that the state's foie gras producers be prosecuted for violating animal cruelty statutes. No action was taken, however.

Late in 2003, the French group Stopgavage ("Citizens' Initiative for the banning of force-feeding") published the Proclamation for the Abolition of Force Feeding, which asks justices to find foie gras production practices a violation of existing animal welfare laws. For this manifesto Stopgavage claims the support of over eighty French animal rights and welfare associations, over a hundred such associations from 25 other countries, and over 20 thousand individual signatories.

Stopgavage, through its president Antoine Comiti, has criticized the INRA (a French public research institute) for allowing its researchers to receive grants from the foie gras industry for conducting research aimed at contradicting the EU report conclusions. Robert Dantzer, a retired INRA researcher, calls the INRA studies "pseudoscience" and "convenience research".

In 2005, the organisations APRL, IDA and PETA released a video narrated by Sir Roger Moore showing footage the groups took inside the three U.S. foie gras farms and several in France.

EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Welfare

The report of the European Union's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare on Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese, adopted on December 16, 1998, is an 89-page review of studies from several producing countries. It examines several indicators of animal welfare, including physiological indicators, liver pathology, and mortality rate. It strongly concludes that "force feeding, as currently practised, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds."

Members of the committee describe how geese and ducks show "avoidance behaviour indicating aversion for the person who feeds them and the feeding procedure". Although the committee reported that there is no "conclusive" scientific evidence on the aversive nature of force feeding, and that evidence of injury is "small", in their overall recommendations, the committee stated that "the management and housing of the birds used for producing foie gras have a negative impact on their welfare".

On physiology, the report finds that based on studies available, "no definite conclusions can be drawn concerning the physiological activity of birds in response to force feeding" because although "force feeding induced hepatic steatosis in the duck or goose", "hepatic steatosis in the waterfowl is a normal metabolic response" and there was a low incidence of disease indicating lesions. If gavage is stopped the "return to normal took approximately four weeks". As an economic indicator the report states "it is strongly in the interest of the farmer" to avoid disease as the "resulting fat liver is of no commercial value". It summarizes that "some pathologists consider this level of steatosis to be pathological but others do not" and recommends that research "should be carried out into methods of producing fat liver which do not require the use of force feeding".

The EU report notes that continued force feeding leads to early death of the animal, and the birds are typically slaughtered just at the point that mortality would drastically increase from the force feeding. In the studies it examined, "the mortality rate in force fed birds varies from 2% to 4% in the two week force feeding period compared with around 0.2% in comparable ducks".

On the force feeding process, The EU committee examined several experiments carried out by INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique) to detect pain or distress by looking at blood hormones, and found that no definite conclusions can be drawn from these studies. Other studies looked at behavioral aversion to the feeding process and found that force fed ducks avoided the feeding pen when given a choice, whereas a majority of the control group not being force fed would enter the feeding pen voluntarily. Daily hand-feeding of ducks and geese is normally associated with a positive response by the animals towards the person feeding them. In contrast, the working group observed that ducks and geese in a pen kept away from their force feeder when he entered the room. In an unpublished pilot experiment by INRA, ducks in cages reportedly displayed less avoidance behaviour to the force feeder’s visit than to the visit of a neutral person coming along the cages later. However, in the working group's own observations, "Ducks in cages had little opportunity to show avoidance but sometimes moved their heads away from the person who was about to force feed them."

The report also recommends collection of additional data regarding the health of the animals, feeding methods, animal housing, and socio-economic factors.

American Veterinary Medical Association

In 2004 and 2005, the American Veterinary Medical Association House of Delegates was forwarded resolutions from its Animal Welfare Committee to oppose the production methods for foie gras. After hearing testimony from 13 delegates, the HOD declined to take a position and left a simple statement: "Limited peer-reviewed, scientific information is available dealing with the animal welfare concerns associated with foie gras production, but the observations and practical experience shared by HOD members indicate a minimum of adverse effects on the birds involved."

The HOD sent delegates to visit foie gras farms. One delegate, Robert P Gordon of New Jersey, indicated his personal position changed drastically after the visit. He also testified tube feeding is less distressing than taking the rectal temperature of a cat and urged the AVMA to take a position based on science, not emotion, while cautioning against anthropomorphism. The New York delegation offered their opinion that opponents of foie gras were intending to create a wedge issue; that the arguments used against foie gras would be modified to be used against other livestock production. The testimony of the delegate from the Association of Avian Veterinarians was that medicating and feeding sick birds via tube was a normal practice that birds accepted without stress. Another delegate who toured the farms stated that the birds appeared to be well cared for and better off than other poultry raised in factory farming. The overall position of the House of Delegates was that, "...observations and practical experience shared by HOD members indicate a minimum of adverse effects on the birds involved." The closing comments in the HOD were that the AVMA should be taking positions on facts and science, make broad policy positions on general animal welfare, and support positions that created oversight of controversial practices for fear that prohibition would cause production to move to countries without animal welfare regulation.

Critics of the AVMA have noted that the organization tends to defend the economic interests of agribusiness over animal welfare, and that it has also declined to take a position against other controversial practices such as forced molting and gestation crates.

Third-party opinions on US produced foie gras

In 1997, Dr. Cheever, DVM, vice-president and board member of The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, toured the Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm, owned by Michael Ginor, at the request of Whole Foods Market (a retailer of natural and organic products). At that time, Margaret Wittenberg, Communications Director for Whole Foods, and Michael Corsello, National Cheese Buyer and Coordinator for Whole Foods, "found the trip to be very upsetting".

In June 2005, New York Times editor Lawrence Downes was invited to a visit of the same farm, including specifically the gavage process, and he "saw no pain or panic...The birds submitted matter-of-factly to a 15-inch tube inserted down the throat for about three seconds, delivering about a cup of corn pellets. The practice...seemed neither particularly gentle nor particularly rough."

Dr. Ward Stone, wildlife pathologist with the NYSDEC and Adjunct Professor at SUNY has on several occasions conducted post-mortems on ducks that died from force feeding, including from the same farm a few months after Mr. Downes' visit. In September 2005, he writes, "...the short tortured lives of ducks raised for Foie Gras is well outside the norm of farm practice. Having seen the pathology that occurs from Foie Gras production, I strongly recommend that this practice be outlawed.

In December 2005, a New York State veterinary group toured the same farm. Dr. Holly Cheever noted, "Based upon my previous observations, it was clear to me that the operations at this facility had been altered and choreographed so as to display a more humane system and to eliminate the more cruel aspects of the production method." However, other members of the visiting group did not express these reservations.

Dr. Cheever is an outspoken critic of the consumption of foie gras, has contributed to numerous publications advocating vegetarianism, and is a prominent proponent of other animal rights causes including banning organized equestrian sports.

Foie gras producers and industry groups

Most foie gras producers do not consider their methods cruel, insisting that it is a natural process exploiting the animals' natural features. Producers argue that wild ducks and geese naturally ingest large amounts of whole food and gain weight before migration. Foie gras producers also contend that geese and ducks do not have a gag reflex, and therefore do not find force feeding uncomfortable. Michael Ginor, owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, author of Foie Gras... A Passion, claims his birds come to him and says this is important because "a stressed or hurt bird won't eat and digest well or produce a foie gras."

According to Industry groups including the CIFOG, and researchers at INRA, forced feeding is not a cruel procedure and animals appreciate this treatment.

Mirepoix USA, a top provider of goose and duck foie gras, alleges that animal rights activists target the foie gras industry because there are very few producers of the commodity and that the industry is therefore more vulnerable to attack than the beef or chicken industries. They assert that this attack is a form of prohibition against a cuisine item which has been enjoyed since the time of ancient Egypt, when Egyptians farmed the natural and seasonal goose liver fatting (overeating) process. Mirepoix claims that the use of the term "diseased" to refer to fatted liver is bunk. Most animals are overfed for human consumption. Geese, ducks and pelicans store dead fish in their esophagi for long periods of time with little complaint.

Mirepoix claims that vegans acting as anarcho-socialists object to the idea of foie gras as a "luxury food item" that people have no right to eat. Similar to the refutation of the vegans to seal clubbing, all parts of the goose (or the seal) are used or consumed. Mirepoix objects to the "violent nature of the attacks on foie gras.

UC Berkeley Biologist Richard Marquet has said on the issue: "Are you guys retarded? It's a goose!", also warning critics of foie gras production, somewhat ineloquently, against anthropomorphism and wasting valuable time.


The controversy over foie gras has been the subject of several lawsuits. The 1985 case Lovenheim v. Iroquois Brands was a shareholder suit regarding ethical concerns about a company selling foie gras. This case set a precedent that ethical and social issues may be considered “significantly related” to a corporation’s business even if that portion of the business is economically insignificant.

In 2003, the Animal Protection and Rescue League and In Defense of Animals filed suit against Sonoma Foie Gras in California under the state's unfair business practices law, alleging animal cruelty. The farm also sued the two groups and four activists who documented conditions at the farm for trespass. The Legislature then intervened with a law allowing the farm to continue force feeding until the year 2012, after which point both the sale and production of foie gras will be illegal in California.

In 2006, Sonoma Foie Gras sued Whole Foods Market for intentional interference with contract for influencing Grimaud Farms to stop supplying ducklings and marketing for Sonoma. The suit is still pending as of February 2007.

Also still pending is a 2006 lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States against the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, alleging that foie gras qualifies as an adulterated food that should not be sold.

Legal status


"Until new scientific evidence on alternative methods and their welfare aspects is available", the production of foie gras is prohibited by treaty except for "where it is current practice" among 35 countries bound by the Council of Europe's European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes.

The force feeding of animals for non-medical purposes, essential to current foie gras production practices, is explicitly prohibited by specific laws in six of nine Austrian provinces, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, or following interpretation of general animal protection laws in Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Most of these countries aren't currently producing foie gras, nor have they been in the past. Thus, these bans have stopped actual foie gras production in very few countries.

Turkey has also banned the force feeding of animals on June 24, 2004 by the enactment of the ANIMAL PROTECTION LAW No: 1/323

Since 1997, the number of European countries producing foie gras has halved. Only five countries still produce foie gras: Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, France and Hungary.

French law states that "Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.

United States

State of California: Sections 25980-25984 of the California Health and Safety Code, enacted in 2004 and to become effective July 2012, prohibit the "force feed[ing of] a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size" as well as the sale of products that are a result of this process.

City of San Diego: On January 8, 2008, the San Diego City Council unanimously passed a resolution that "commends the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) for raising awareness of the cruel practice of force-feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras, commends the many San Diego restaurants that have stopped selling foie gras before the California statewide ban goes into effect, and encourages San Diegans to avoid supporting this extreme form of animal cruelty." The resolution also cites an independent Zogby poll finding that 85% of San Diegans favor an immediate ban on foie gras.

City of Chicago: On 26 April 2006, the Chicago City Council voted to ban the sale of foie gras, effective 22 August 2006 Breaches of the ban were to be punished with fines of $250–$500. Alderman Joe Moore, who proposed the ban, described the method by which foie gras is produced as "clearly animal cruelty." In response, several Chicago chefs filed suit and deliberately violated the law by continuing to sell foie gras. Furthermore, a handful of chefs served foie gras without charge, which they considered not to be against the law. Even for establishments that were violating the law, the City issued warning letters but, until February 17, 2007, no citations were given. On that date, Doug Sohn, owner of a gourmet hot dog shop was charged with a violation. Although the fine could have been as high as $500, Sohn agreed to pay a $250 fine on March 29. Several unusual dishes, including foie gras pizza, have been created in Chicago, in defiance of the City Council's banning of foie gras. 46,000 pounds of foie gras were sold in Chicago in 2006.

In December 2006, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley referred to the ban as "the silliest law" the City Council has ever passed. As a result of the ban, Chicago restaurants Spiaggia and Tru developed dishes designed to simulate the foie gras experience. Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel found Tru's "Faux Gras" "close to the real thing", and Spiaggia's "terrina de fagato grasso vegetariano" "undeniably rich and indulgent", but "[lacking] the characteristic foie-gras intensity".

In response to Mayor Daley's objections on the foie gras ban the City Council overwhelmingly repealed Chicago's ban on May 14, 2008.

Many other states, including Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania have all considered bans on Foie Gras production and/or the sale of the product and have rejected such measures.

Elsewhere in the world

Argentina: Foie gras production is illegal in Argentina as a mistreatment or act of cruelty to animals.

Israel: In August 2003, the Supreme Court of Israel ordered the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture to ban the force feeding of geese, effective 31 March, 2005. The last appeal was withdrawn in October 2005, but the law was left unenforced until February 2006. Most protest activities were conducted by the Anonymous for Animal Rights organization, which also tracks the enforcement of the ban, and fills complaints against farms that conduct illegal force feeding.


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