Ban on Foie Gras: Public Perception, Public Discourse


Before going into the matter of the ban on Foie Gras some introductory material must be offered on the practice. Foie Gras is a French word that can be interpreted in English as “Fat liver” (Grant 54). The most common source of this popular delicacy is the fattened liver of ducks and geese. The production of this delicacy involves a controversial practice known as “Gavage” which can be taken to mean intentional force-feeding. It is reported that even though the French are best known for the promotion and cultivation of the delicacy the practice can be traced to many countries and cultures throughout human history (Grant 54).

One issue that has remained thorny about Foie Gras production can be traced to the practice of force-feeding. This debate has seen the Pope and Prince of Wales voice their opinions in public with both opposing the practice of force-feeding (Grant 55). This same debate within the US has in the recent past come to the forefront in both public and legislative circles. Following the debate, California banned the production of products produced by force-feeding within the state. Chicago also followed suit by banning the products although it was later decided to repeal the ban. It is reported that the debate has as many as thirteen more states or local governments considering similar actions (Grant 55).

The current activity about this debate has caused much consideration to be given to the factors surrounding such decisions. It is reported that based on these decisions a new debate has arisen on the constitutionality of actions such as banning the production of Foie Gras. The question of whether the ban is constitutional raises important questions with potentially serious consequences and practical effects on the daily life of people (Grant 56). The debate is likely to set a foundation for vast changes in current and future animal welfare laws that regulate the food industry. Though this report is not concerned with arguing a case either for or against Foie Gras it is hoped that the material offered within the report will give insight into the issue

Elements of Foie Gras most likely to have caused the ban

The methods used to produce Foie Gras vary as the product has been a part of history for centuries. However, the main source of debate about Foie Gras can be attributed to concerns that suggest the production of Foie Gras is cruel or unethical (Grant 59). As has been mentioned earlier Foie Gras is primarily produced from Ducks and Geese. However, in recent years the farmers in the US have resorted more and more to the use of ducks for the production of Foie Gras. This is because farmers and scientists identified a type of duck that had a stronger body and esophagus than geese. In addition, ducks were found to be more resistant to disease and cheaper to produce (Grant 60).

The ducks that are bred for Foie Gras production are prepared for force-feeding throughout their stay within production facilities. During the first ten to fourteen weeks of the bird’s lives they are kept on a free-range outdoors or within production facilities on land. During this stage birds are fed hay or fiber with the goal of expanding their esophagi (Grant 60). It should be noted that these ducks are best suited for living in water and this approach is likely to cause difficulty or hardship for the birds.

At the age of ten to fourteen weeks the birds are transferred into force-feeding pens with dim lighting and some ventilation using a fan. During this stage, the birds are force-fed twice to thrice daily for a minimum of twelve to a maximum of thirty-one days (Grant 60). The bird is force-fed by a standard approach that involves restraining the bird and inserting a metallic feeding pipe of ten to twelve-inch length into the bird’s esophagus (Grant 61). The amount of food per feeding is increased after the first force-feed and varies between one to seven pounds. The time taken to push the food down the pipe varies from between two to thirty seconds (Grant 61). It has been argued that the use of feeding tubes is painful and sickens the birds (Glass 1). In addition to the pain, some activists also argue that the practice of force-feeding involves forcing the birds to feed more than they would voluntarily, inducing a state of disease (Glass 3).

Informing a decision on whether the position of the proponents of the ban is justified the report will provide some facts. It has been reported that 2.5 to 4.2 percent of ducks reared for Foie Gras production die before slaughter (Glass 3). In the case of Geese, it is reported that between 3.5 to 5.3 percent of birds reared for Fie Gras production die before slaughter (Glass 3). At this point, it would be wise to consider the facts that resulted in the use of ducks as the main source of Foie Gras in the United States. It had been observed that ducks had a stronger body, esophagus, were more disease resistant and cheaper to produce than geese (Grant 60). Based on this fact and the death of birds used in Foie Gras production it would appear that it is true that force-feeding induces a state of disease in the birds. However, this is just an assumption and further research needs to be carried out to establish the truth of this statement.

The production has often been described as cruel due to the fact it involves capturing the animal and introduction of a pipe into the esophagus. In addition to that the feeder must suppress the natural gag reflex which may be painful to the birds. The temperature of corn-based feed can also injure internal organs as indicated through autopsies (Grant 88). In addition to difficulty in standing and breathing as many as 30 to 70 percent of the birds may acquire injuries such as broken bones due to poor handling or diet (Grant 89). It has been observed that many of the opponents of the practice have argued that it is stressful for the bird. However, research indicates that upon measurement of acute stress indicators, it appears that there is no significant increase in stress among birds used for this purpose (Faure, Guemene and Guy 157).

As a matter of fact, it has been reported following analysis of birds kept for the production of Foie Gras that stress levels only increased when the birds were kept in collective pens. When similar tests were carried out on ducks reared in individual pens the stress levels were only high after the first force-feed (Faure, Guemene and Guy 158). Based on analysis of this information scientists have thus suggested that the increase in stress levels in these birds is more likely to be due to the process of capture (Faure, Guemene and Guy 158). This, therefore, suggests that if birds are reared in individual pens there is little or no stress.

In addition to the above results, it has been reported that animals normally indicate avoidance to stimulus that involves pain (Faure, Guemene and Guy 158). For this reason, if the birds were studied to observe their behavior based on avoidance then it would be possible to ascertain whether force-feeding was painful. To measure this, two tests were developed using birds reared for Foie Gras production. In the first test, birds were reared in a pen and observed to measure avoidance behavior in approaching the force-feeding pen (Faure, Guemene and Guy 157). In the second test, the distance of a flight from an unknown intruder and the force feeder were measured (Faure, Guemene and Guy 157).

The results of the first test indicated that birds did not record any significant avoidance behavior about the feeding pen (Faure, Guemene and Guy 157). This can be taken to suggest that the birds did not feel the process of force-feeding was painful hence did not exhibit avoidance behavior. In the second test, the birds exhibited greater avoidance behavior about unknown intruders as opposed to the force feeder (Faure, Guemene and Guy 157). This fact can be taken to suggest that the birds do not find the process of force-feeding painful and thus do not avoid the feeder. This data based on research goes to suggest that force-feeding is not painful to the birds. However, this is based on data from one study and other studies may indicate otherwise

Alternative mechanisms short of the Ban

According to the Californian legislation banning the production of Foie Gras, a seven-year grace period was given to producers to find a humane way to produce Foie Gras. The legislation is clear on the fact that this solution must not include force-feeding (Glass 2). In light of this, some producers have developed an alternative technique for production that takes advantage of the bird’s natural gorging tendencies (Glass 1).

This approach which was tested with geese allowed birds to roam freely feeding on grass, acorns, figs, and lupines in the Extremadura region of Spain (Glass 1). The approach processes birds once annually before natural migration when birds exhibit a tendency to gorge. It is reported that the harvest produces livers weighing 450 to 500 grams. This is appropriate given French law defines Foie Gras from a force-fed bird as weighing 400 grams on average for a goose (Glass 1).

Despite the purported success of the approach fellow producers are skeptical of the reliability of the approach. This is because experiments conducted on ducks and geese in France taking advantage of natural gorging tendency managed to get increases in the size of the liver but not with the fat content and weight required for Foie Gras (Glass 2). In response to the skeptics, the Spanish producer cited the environment and respect given to the animal as reasons for success (Glass 2). This position indicates that the approach may not be convincing to producers who believe they are not getting all the required information.

On the other hand if the legislation were to consider alternative approaches that suggest a less harmful method of force-feeding a lasting solution may be found. It has been reported that the use of a rubber feeding tube of six-inch length may be a better solution. The tubes are shorter, very flexible and have a mechanism to avoid feeding birds more than the gizzards can hold (Glass 2). The approach when used with a feeding plan to take advantage of the bird’s natural tendencies has been successful at producing quality Foie Gras. The main challenge thus lies in convincing the public that this approach is not painful to the birds.

Chicago and the long term

In Chicago, the ban on Foie Gras was enforced and repealed barely two years later (Grant 65). The vote in favor of the ordinance caused a major controversy and backlash from restaurant owners. Due to the difficulty in enforcing the law the products continued to feature in many restaurants in the city (Grant 67). In addition to this, state laws such as this one are often subject to attack based on constitutional grounds. In the case of Chicago, the city council was taken to court over allegations of applying discriminatory ordinances to residents. In addition to that, it has been established that there is minimal scientific evidence to support opponents of Foie Gras (Grant 93). In light of the lengthy court proceedings and fanfare associated with the issue, the city council opted to lift the ban. Based on this case and the evidence surrounding the issue it would appear that if enacted in numerous states such legislation may be lasting given the constitutionality of such legislation.

Works Cited

Faure, Jean-Michel, Daniel Guemene and Gerard Guy. “Is there avoidance of the force feeding procedure in ducks and geese?” Anim. Res. 50 (2001): 157-164. Print.

Glass, Juliet. “Foie Gras makers struggle to please critics and chefs.” New York Times, 2007 (2007). 1-3. Print.

Grant, Joshua I. “Hell to the sound of trumpets: Why Chicago’s ban on Foie Gras was constitutional and what it means for the future of animal welfare laws.” Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy 2 (2009): 54-109. Print.

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