Foie gras, a crual reality to understand and change

Holiday season is coming and like each year, the foie gras will be on the tables. Yet, behind this product registered on the French gastronomic and cultural heritage since 2006 is hidden the production mode extremely brutal that we need to talk about and accept to consider it. So what is really the foie gras conception process? A topic with unpleasant steps but that needs to be understood.

From the incubator to the slaughterhouse, the reality of foie gras explained

Each year in France, 40 million ducks and 700 000 geeses are fattened and killed to satisfy our taste buds and mainly for Christmas and New Year. But what is the price to pay for these animals? Here are the different life steps of a mulard duck or goose from a foie gras branch.

Artificial insemination, ducklings crushing and beak trimming

Whether the breeding is traditional or industrial, the artificial insemination is nowadays a current practice for all. This insemination generates stress and pain for the animal. The eggs issued from reproduction farms are then sent to hatcheries in which they are placed in incubators. In that way, no less thant 80 million of ducklings are born each year in France for foie gras production.

Like the screening of chicks in the laying hen industry, as soon as they hatch from the egg, ducklings are screened and females – which liver is considered as too small and nerved – are crushed or gassed. Females represent around 35% of birth or 23 million killed each year. Ducks are also beak trimmed in the hatchery burnt or cut between 14 and 21 days to avoid any injury between animals that become aggressive due to the high number of ducks enclosed in small surfaces.

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© Aurore Burel – EVI

Video made in December 2015 in a hatchery in the Pays de la Loire (France): 

Rearing period (3 months)

In the early days, ducklings are reared in groups in heated buildings. From the 4th week, they can access an outside space. Ducks have unlimited food during 8 to 10 weeks. During week 11 and 12, food becomes limited in order to acclimate the birds to eat a great quantity in a quick way.

Although the Interprofessional comittee of palmipedes for foie gras (Comité interprofessionnel des palmipèdes à foie gras or CIFOG) claims that the animals have access to an outside space 90% of their live, reality is much different. As underlined by L214, animals have access to outside only half of their life since CIFOG seems to forget that their first few weeks are lived inside building.

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Fattening period (10 to 12 days)

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© Sophie Brakha – EVI

During the fattening period, animals are placed in individual or collective cages in which their moves are considerably restricted, and the full deployment of their wings is impossible. Individual cages are normally forbidden on new installations since December 2004 and should be replaced in any structures since December 31, 2010. However, according to L214, the majority of producers still use these individual cages up to 75% of French production.

Fattening consists in introducing in the duck or goose’s esophagus a mix of corn-based food thanks to a metallic tube of 20 centimeters and propelled by a hydraulic pump, twice a day. The food quantities are progressively increased. At the end of this period, the liver is 7 to 10 times its original size. The animal is affected by a fatty liver and some of them do not survive until the end of this period. It is a liver lesion caused by an accumulation of fat in the liver. It becomes so big that it compresses the other organs. The bird has difficulties to move, breath and regulate its temperature. It has diarrhea, loss of balance and panting. To this we can add stress, esophagus infection, neck and legs infections as well as many other diseases.

Ducks and geese are then packed in cages to be transported to the slaughterhouse in which they will be electrocuted and bled. While a duck can live up to 20 years, those destined to the foie gras production will have only lived 3 and a half months in very difficult life conditions.

South West foie gras: investigation in typical fattening rooms of a production in 2012:

Fattening, contrary to the animal welfare

On December 16, 1998 was published a report from the Science Committee of the European Commission on the health and welfare of animals titled: The aspects of welfare of ducks and geese in the foie gras production. It highlights the negatives and dangerous effects of this industry on birds and contradicts many arguments from the foie gras industry. According to this report, the fattening is harmful to the ducks and geese welfare. The mortality during fattening is multiplied by 10. In addition, it attests that the animal’s liver is sick and that if the process is undergoing after 12 days, the animal would die. Proof that the fattening is in no way natural and is dangerous for the bird. Following this report, a European recommendation was established on June 22, 1999. The article 17 declares that:

Methods of feeding and feed additives which cause distress, injury or disease to the ducks [and geese] or may result in development of physical or physiological conditions detrimental to their health and welfare shall not be permitted.

France, first producer and consumer of foie gras in the margin of other European countries

Many countries in the world have prohibited the production of foie gras:

Germany, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republoc, UK, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Israel, Argentine and California.

France, Spain, Bulgaria and Hungary remain the only European countries that continue the fattening whereas the European directive from July 20, 1998 on the protection of animals in farms stipulates that “no animal is to be fed in such way that it ends with useless sufferings or damages”.

The European regulation tolerates a deviation on the only condition that these countries look for alternatives to fattening. But France does not seem ready yet to prohibit the fattening and to go accordingly to the European directive. Yet, a survey conducted in November 2017 indicates that 58% of French are favorable to the prohibition of fattening while the consumption of foie gras in France tends to decrease for the last 6 years.

Acting to say « Stop » to foie gras and fattening

  • Stop the consumption of foie gras

Many alternatives to foie gras exist. Read our article on this topic here.

  • Participate in sensitization actions with associations.
  • Talk to everyone you know.

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