During ancient times, farmers reputedly immobilized ducks and geese in order to more easily force-feed and fatten them by nailing their feet to the floor. You would think that we had progressed beyond such barbarism, but a recent PETA investigation at a foie gras farm in Quebec has revealed conditions that are depressingly archaic.
At a farm located outside Montreal and owned by Palmex Inc., which is part of Rougie, the self-proclaimed "world’s No. 1 producer of foie gras," PETA documented ducks lined up in rows of coffin-like cages that encase their bodies like vices. The birds’ heads and necks protrude through small openings, which makes force-feeding easier. The birds can do little more than stand, try to lie down and turn their heads. They cannot so much as spread a single wing.
Ducks are waterfowl. In their natural habitat, they spend almost their entire lives in or near water — swimming, bathing, diving and feeding. On foie gras farms, ducks never go near ponds or streams — ever. In their final weeks, they are confined to cages or pens and several pounds of mush is pumped down their throats through a metal pipe up to three times a day. This is done until the birds’ livers grotesquely expand to up to 10 times their normal size, which is the symptom of a painful disease called hepatic steatosis. Some people call it a delicacy.
Similar conditions to those at Palmex have been documented on French foie gras farms, even though shoebox-style cages were supposed to have been eliminated there after the Council of Europe passed regulations in 1999 that require foie gras farms to provide birds with enough space in which to move, preen, interact and eat and drink normally. Existing farms were given until the end of 2010 to comply with the regulations, but at least one of the French farms where these cages were documented was built after the law went into effect.
Both France and Canada export foie gras all over the globe, including a corner of the world that recently banned the production and sale of foie gras: Hermosa Beach, Calif., Palmex supplies foie gras to Hot’s Kitchen, a restaurant in Hermosa Beach that continues to sell foie gras in flagrant violation of a statewide ban. PETA has filed a lawsuit against the restaurant’s owner.
There are those who, even after seeing photos of lethargic, barely conscious ducks with red-rimmed eyes, filthy feathers, drooping heads and bloody injuries to their necks and bills, will insist that there’s nothing wrong with foie gras, but experts disagree. "Ducks need to be able to move, walk, stretch, preen, bathe ... and exercise," says avian veterinarian Anthony Pilny. "This housing denies and frustrates the ducks’ basic, biological needs, and it is cruel and inhumane. These animals feel pain, grief, and loss. It is unjust to treat them in this way."
There’s a reason foie gras production has been outlawed in more than a dozen countries (and California), why chefs like Charlie Trotter refuse to serve it, and why Prince Charles refuses to allow it on royal menus: It’s an abomination. We may no longer be nailing birds’ feet to the floor, but we haven’t progressed much beyond that in the past millennium.
Dan Paden is a senior research associate with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
— McClatchy Tribune Services