My post The Ultimate Health Food, Revealed! generated a number of comments, some of them quite critical of foie gras and gavage, the process by which ducks and geese are fattened. Fortunately, one reader (Bruce) weighed in on the opposite side and I reproduce his response here, because I don’t want it to be lost in the comments to the previous blog:
As a former producer of foie gras I’m probably the only reader of this blog who can provide first-hand evidence. After the first few days of force-feeding my geese caught on to the procedure and would come to me to be fed. Inserting a tube into their gullet is painless – the person doing the job would be the first to know if there was discomfort. A goose which has been feeding on grass all day comes home with a great bulge in its neck, which is a flexible storage area.
I’ve not been in a commercial foie gras factory in eastern europe or elsewhere, so I don’t know about conditions there. There are good and bad examples in all animal-producing branches. But in southwest France the local producers that I’ve met wouldn’t dream of keeping geese in tiny stalls during the period of gavage. You only get good foie gras from healthy (and happy) birds, and geese are highly social.
Take a look at the first picture of Egyptian foie gras production above. That’s how it’s done, with the feeder sitting down and the geese milling around. Notice the goose nibbling away at the food on the stool while awaiting its turn to be force-fed.
That was precisely my impression, but I, of course, cannot speak with the same authority as a person who actually reared the birds for foie gras.
Here’s an interesting and detailed article The Physiology of Foie: Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical which describes how foie gras is produced on an American farm. Also watch this movie for the actual process of gavage (in France).
Yves and Geneviève Boissière, the owners of the Museum of Foie Gras, with their birds (Source)
Here’s a video about the whole process of producing foie gras at la Ferme de Souleilles (it’s in French, but I think it’s pretty self-explanatory).
The main point is that there is nothing particularly bad about gavage (which, by the way means “stuffing”). That’s what ducks and geese do when they need to store enough energy for the migration. The opponents of foie gras use the bait-and-switch tactic – ostensibly they are against the gavage, but instead they show horrible videos of birds held under inhumane conditions in cages, which is a completely separate story. Such intellectual dishonesty doesn’t strengthen their case, to say the least.
There is a lot of hypocritical hand-wringing surrounding this issue. Here’s a reaction from a Russian acquaintance:
I find it remarkable that the same people, who protest against force-feeding ducks through their gullets, have no objection to force-feeding Guantanamo detainees through their anuses.
I suspect that my Russian colleague is incorrect, and these are quite different groups of Americans (people outside the U.S. tend to think of the Americans as one monolithic mass). On the other hand, the state of California, which has banned both the production and sale of foie gras, has no problem with employing John Yoo as professor of law (!) at the University of California.