Is Foie Gras Torture?

Henley said that he'd been making some changes on the farm with the help of animal-welfare consultants, including Dr. Ericka Voogd (a colleague of Grandin's) and Dr. Tirath Sandhu, an avian scientist who is retired from the Cornell Veterinary School. One of the alterations could be found in the nurseries, our next stop.

This nursery held four-day-old chicks and smelled woodsy from the fluffy sawdust bedding covering the floor. The flock of yellow babies cheeped and toddled around the warm room. Until recently, the chicks lived on just one level of sawdust, but moisture from their drinking water would drip down into the bedding. At the prompting of the welfare consultants, the farm installed a wire-mesh ramp on one side of the room, leading up to a level wire-mesh floor, where the water nipples are now located. Moisture drips down through the mesh, and the bedding stays dry. Plus, said Henley, "it adds a level of complexity to their environment."

Henley then took us through a door into a similar room, which held nine-week-olds that looked nearly full-grown. The mass of feathers moved as one, scampering away from us as we entered the room. "You have to move slowly, or they'll stampede," Henley told us. We walked slowly out into the center of the room, and it was like parting the sea-but a sea of ducks.

Henley with nine-week-old ducks.
Amol Mhatre
Henley with nine-week-old ducks.
The farm at daybreak.
Amol Mhatre
The farm at daybreak.

Details

How Foie Gras Gets Made
Photos of the whole process at Hudson Valley
by Amol Mhatre

Once the birds hit 12 weeks, they're moved from the growing areas&-;where they waddle around freely and have windows for natural light-to the group pens, where the 21-day force-feeding begins and the room is lit artificially. (It does seem like a step down in living arrangements.)

We headed back to the buildings where the feeding was taking place. A worker climbed into the pen with a stool and a wooden divider. (Each worker has a group of 320 to 350 ducks that he or she feeds every day during the 21-day regimen; workers whose ducks have low mortality rates and high-quality livers get bonuses.) A tube with a funnel at the top was strung from a wire above, and the worker slid it along into the pen she was about to work in. The birds clustered on one side of the pen, but didn't show nearly as much aversion to humans as the nine-week-olds we had just seen did-the older ducks seemed less alarmed by humans, which is hard to reconcile with if they were being tortured.

The woman sat on the stool, put the wooden divider in the middle of the pen, and reached for the first bird. She positioned the bird's body under her leg, eased the tube down the bird's throat, and poured a cupful of feed into the funnel above. A rotating auger spins in the funnel to make sure all of it goes down the pipe, but the food is delivered by gravity. The birds did not relish being grabbed, but the actual process with the tube didn't seem to bother them much. They sat with the tube down their throat for a very short period of time-about 10 to 15 seconds-without struggling or showing sign of distress. The whole process-pick up, position, feed, and release-took about 30 seconds. I watched the birds closely as they walked away from the feeding. Each waddled calmly away, looking unfazed: no breathing problems, no vomiting, and no trouble walking. Their feathers were fairly clean, and I didn't see any lesions on their feet or bodies.

But these ducks were only on their 12th day of force-feeding, so I asked to see the ducks on their 21st day again-this time, to pay more attention to the details of the feeding. We went back up to the area where we had started from. Some of the cages that were full when we saw them earlier were now half-empty, because some ducks actually go to slaughter earlier than the 22nd day. The feeder feels the base of each duck's esophagus (sometimes called a "pseudo-crop"), where feed is held that has yet to be digested. Birds that haven't digested the last feeding are marked with blue chalk and not fed. If they still haven't digested by the next feeding, they're not fed yet again and are marked with pink chalk and taken with the next batch to be slaughtered.

The birds on their 21st day of feeding appeared very much like the ones at 12 days, but were fatter and had dirtier feathers. The birds are bathed on the second and 10th days of feeding, but Henley said the farm was working with its animal-welfare consultants to find a way to keep the birds' feathers cleaner and thus prevent sores. These birds' reactions to the force-feeding were indistinguishable from those of the 12th-day birds. I looked for the signs that I'd been told would show me that the birds were desperately ill, but these birds, on their 21st day, were not having trouble walking or breathing, they weren't having seizures, and they weren't comatose.

I was at the farm for five hours, all told. I saw thousands of ducks, but not a drop of duck vomit. I didn't see an animal that was having a hard time breathing or walking, or a duck with a bloodied beak or blown-open esophagus. I did see one dead duck. And now I was going to see many more, as I went to the area where they are slaughtered.

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My Voice Nation Help
4 comments
eightcats
eightcats

My boyfriend and I visited this farm, because we were in the area and he was interested.  He orders from them all the time. They will deliver to your home.  We got a mini-tour.  We had to be quiet, so as not to disturb the ducks, who seemed contentedly calm.  The ducks were not in cages. We were told the ducks didn't have to be force fed, that they would overeat on their own if given the opportunity.  These are creatures raised for food; how humane do we have to be before we kill them? All the people who are donating to the Humane Society, look where your money is going, on harassing this poor farmer. This was a nice clean place--definitely not an abusive factory farm.  I read that the farmer's intent from the beginning was to raise ducks humanely.  It really was a pleasure visiting the farm.   

Eselpee
Eselpee

Hudson Valley Foie Gras's policies reflect the efforts of animal rights advocates. And now it seems that this facility has become very vested in being humane; it is a source of pride (Thank you Humane Society, ASPCA, PETA, and individual protesters).

 

If Hudson Valley Foie Gras’s relatively humane practices result in high profits (the reason Grandin’s practices have been widely accepted is that humane treatment of animals does result in higher quality, safer products leading to higher profits) then perhaps more farms will follow suit. All of our animals need to be raised at least as humanely.

 

We need to continue to demand higher standards for all of our farms; for all of our animals. We need to continue to be animal rights advocates, if not for compassion, at least for quality and safety for human consumption. Sarah DiGregorio (“You can buy humanely raised chicken, or you can buy chicken that's had a nasty, brutal life. The same goes for foie gras.”) must recognize that the huge majority of farm animals consumed in the USA lead lives of horror and contamination, resulting in a dangerous food source (bad karma?). Most American simply turn a blind eye and ridicule a vegan instead. I hope she pursues this end.

 

Sarah DiGregorio neglected to address the quality of food fed to these ducks. The liver filters, biotransforms, and accumulates toxins. Consuming livers of animals gavaged with products loaded with pesticides is kinda gross. Maybe Hudson Valley Foie Gras can respond to this issue.

 

kajabla1961
kajabla1961

@EselpeeNo, the animal rights groups do not get credit for improved conditions at farms because their entire agenda is to shut down all businesses that work with animals in any form, and they state this very clearly in their objectives.

Animal Rights means equal rights with human beings (also animals).  Animal welfare means taking proper care of the animals.  I grew up in farm country and farmers who take better care of their animals, provide for the welfare of the animals, always do better.  Healthy animals produce more and better meats and other animal products.

Animal rights groups have always looked for the worst abuser they can find and label an entire industry as being equal to the worst.  They have also been caught many times staging their footage and even committing the worst offenses themselves to fake their documentaries.

I don't despise vegans and vegetarians, they are free to eat what they wish, but I do despise those who presume to tell me I must eat as they choose to.  They do not understand how nature works, or that people are part of nature, and that in nature animals and insects are often eaten alive or torn apart while alive to be eaten by other animals.  They do not live wonderful lives and die of old age.

Humans are generally far more humane in their treatment of their food sources.  Animal rights groups need to stop accusing us all of being sadists.

 
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