To produce “foie gras” (the French term means “fatty liver”), workers ram pipes down the throats of male ducks twice each day, pumping up to 2.2 pounds of grain and fat into their stomachs, or geese three times a day, up to 4 pounds daily, in a process known as “gavage.” The force-feeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to up to 10 times their normal size. Many birds have difficulty standing because their engorged livers distend their abdomens, and they may tear out their own feathers and attack each other out of stress.
The birds are kept in tiny cages or crowded sheds. Unable to bathe or groom themselves, they become coated with excrement mixed with the oils that would normally protect their feathers from water. One Newsweek reporter who visited a foie gras factory farm described the ducks as “listless” and “often lame from foot infection due to standing on metal grilles during the gavage.” Other common health problems include damage to the esophagus, fungal infections, diarrhea, impaired liver function, heat stress, lesions, and fractures of the sternum. Some ducks die of aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when grain is forced into the ducks’ lungs or when birds choke on their own vomit. In one study, birds force-fed for foie gras had a mortality rate up to 20 times that of a control group of birds who were not force-fed.
Since foie gras is made from the livers of only male ducks, all female ducklings—40 million of them each year in France alone—are useless to the industry and are therefore simply tossed into grinders, live, so that their bodies can be processed into fertilizer or cat food.
A PETA investigation at Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York (previously called “Commonwealth Enterprises”) found that a single worker was expected to force-feed 500 birds three times each day. The pace meant that they often treated the birds roughly and left them injured and suffering. So many ducks died from ruptured organs resulting from overfeeding that workers who killed fewer than 50 birds per month were given a bonus. A worker told a PETA investigator that he could feel tumor-like lumps, caused by force-feeding, in some ducks’ throats. One duck had a maggot-ridden neck wound so severe that water spilled out of it when he drank.
Another PETA investigation at Hudson Valley in 2013 documented that prior to the force-feeding period, young ducks were crammed by the thousands into huge warehouse-like sheds in conditions that are virtually identical to those for “broiler” chickens and turkeys on factory farms. Ducks who were being force-fed were confined, up to a dozen at a time, to a pen measuring just 4 feet by 6 feet. PETA’s investigator saw workers drag ducks by their necks along the wire floor and pin them between their legs before ramming the metal force-feeding tubes down their throats.
By Hudson Valley’s own calculations, approximately 15,000 ducks on the farm die every year before they can be slaughtered. Every single week, this one company sells foie gras made from 5,000 diseased ducks. Ducks at Hudson Valley are killed on site, and PETA’s investigator documented one bird who was still moving after his throat had been cut.
At a farm near Montréal that is owned by Palmex, Inc.—which is a brand of the world’s largest foie gras producer, Rougié—PETA documented ducks lined up in rows of iron coffin-like cages that encase their bodies like vises. The birds’ heads and necks protrude through small openings to make the force-feeding easier for the human workers. The birds can do little more than stand up, lie down, and turn their heads. They cannot turn around or spread a single wing.
Similar conditions have been documented on some of the largest French foie gras factory farms. Even minimal changes to cage-size requirements have some French companies considering moving production to China, where there are no laws to protect animals from cruelty and where foie gras production is increasing.
Foie gras is so cruel that California has banned its production. (The ban on in-state production remains in place while legal battles continue over whether California can also ban the sale of foie gras.) Force-feeding animals is against the law in many countries, including Israel, Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom. India has banned the importation of foie gras, meaning that it cannot legally be sold anywhere in the country.
What You Can Do
Join Kate Winslet, Roger Moore, and countless others around the world in refusing to eat foie gras. You can even take a bigger step by giving up all animal products. Take PETA’s Pledge to Be Vegan for 30 Days, and we’ll send you our top tips on the best places to eat out, our favorite recipes, info on the tastiest animal-friendly snacks, and suggestions for the most delicious prepackaged cruelty-free meals. You can also join PETA’s Action Team to receive alerts about any foie gras–related demonstrations in your area.