We’d like to shed some light on the five most common myths used by the foie gras industry to justify the force-feeding of ducks and geese.
The rebuttals to the industries false claims have been prepared by the following group of New York based veterinarians:
Eileen Jefferson, DVM – High Falls, NY
Michael Hess, DVM – Glendale, NY
Gretchen Cawein, DVM – New York, NY
Gloria Tulliu, DVM – Queens, NY
Justin Lamb, DVM – Brooklyn, NY
Andrew Kaplan, DVM – New York, NY
Susan Whittred, DVM – Rockaway, NY
“Ducks have no gag reflex & their esophagi have a tough lining, so they can swallow fish & other prey without pain.”
In foie gras production, force-feeding is accomplished via a long metal pipe inserted down the bird’s esophagus. Whereas a bird swallowing its own food uses voluntary muscle movements and digestive reflexes, the forced action of inserting a foreign object poses much more risk, over which the bird has no control. The mouth of the inserted pipe or funnel can cause injuries, and bruising or perforation of the esophagus can occur from insertion of the pipe or funnel. Injuries can also occur from the food being too hot. In addition, aspiration may occur; food accidentally entering the adjacent windpipe can lead to aspiration-associated irritation, infection and consequent difficulty breathing. Asphyxia (suffocation) can occur if food accidentally enters the trachea instead of the adjacent esophagus.
Approximately 95% of the birds used in U.S. foie gras production are Muscovy or Muscovy/Mallard hybrid ducks. Because both breeds are dabbling ducks and not diving ducks, their natural, swallowed diet consists primarily of aquatic plants and insects, or sometimes small fish, but not “large prey.”
Additionally, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare of the European Commission found that the “oropharyngeal area is particularly sensitive and is physiologically adapted to perform a gag reflex in order to prevent fluids entering the trachea. Force feeding will have to overcome this reflex and hence the birds may initially find this distressing and injury may result.”
“In nature, ducks fatten their livers for energy prior to migration, & the effect is reversible.”
Foie gras, or “fatty liver,” refers to the condition known medically as hepatic lipidosis. It results from excessive fat content in the diet and/or too large or too frequent feedings. In the case of foie gras, the liver is deliberately swelled to up to 10 times its normal size via force-feeding multiple times daily for several weeks. In contrast, according to the AVMA’s summary of the peer-reviewed literature, duck livers showing seasonal changes enlarge by a maximum of 1.5 times their normal size.
Clinical signs of hepatic lipidosis can include brain damage due to liver failure, difficulty breathing, lack of appetite, depression and abdominal enlargement or fluid accumulation in the abdomen. In pet birds accidentally subjected to an improper diet, hepatic lipidosis is intervened upon to avoid life-threatening consequences. In foie gras manufacture, the diseased liver and associated ailments are overlooked for the end goal of creating the food product. Due to the severity of illness caused by force-feeding, ducks raised in the foie gras industry often experience mobility problems.
“Independent veterinarians & scientists conclude that hand-feeding ducks causes them no harm.”
In its “Welfare Implications of Foie Gras Production” literature review, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) lists multiple health risks of foie gras production, including “potential for injury,” “distress from restraint,” “compromised health and welfare,” and “creation of a vulnerable animal more likely to suffer from otherwise tolerable conditions such as heat and transport.” When thoroughly studying the use of force-feeding in the foie gras industry, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare of the European Commission declared that, “[T]here is good evidence that liver structure and function…is severely altered and compromised in force fed ducks and geese. [The Committee] concludes that force feeding, as currently practiced, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds.”
Additionally, several well-respected veterinarians have attested to the harm caused by force feeding ducks and geese:
"Due to the enormous size of the livers … the birds have no room for their air sacs to fill with oxygen … analogous to feeling as if one is [being smothered].” - Holly Cheever, DVM of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association
“The practice of force feeding amounts of food far beyond the limits of the duck’s need to eat causes pain and suffering. Ducks are highly capable of feeling pain especially in the throat area. They have a gag reflex that would be overcome by the tube insertion, and this would cause distress in the bird.” - Dr. Debra Teachout, DVM, MVS
“Force-feeding in the foie gras industry is inherently cruel. … This feeding beyond what the ducks would eat normally causes hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver, which impairs liver function. Severe liver impairment can lead to conditions like enlargement of the liver, fluid in the abdomen and eventually death.” - Dr. Lorelei Wakefield, VMD
“In my opinion, [force-feeding] is cruel and inhumane, as it involves rough, invasive handling and can result in trauma and injuries to the esophagus. The process overrides the natural system of hunger and satiety and the birds in the video appear to be frightened and distressed - they move immediately away from the handler as soon as they are released.” - Dr. Sara Shields, PhD, animal welfare expert with an emphasis in poultry
“[T]he process of force feeding birds in order to deliberately induce a disease state is patently inhumane, causing severe physical pain and psychological distress.” - Dr. Lee Schrader, DVM
“American foie gras is raised on small-scale farms using artisanal methods.”
Investigators recounting their experiences at Sonoma Foie Gras near Stockton, California stated:
“We could tell when we were getting close to the farm because of the smell. It smelled like a mixture of feces, vomit and death. It was the kind of smell that plagues your senses and stays in your clothes.”
“Once we got inside, we knew why it smelled so foul,” recalls an investigator. “When we turned on the lights, we saw row after row of ducks crowded into filthy pens. Most of them were covered in vomit and often blood from body cavities and gaping wounds.”
Investigators videotaped while employees at both facilities force fed the ducks, repeatedly shoving a large metal pipe attached to a pneumatic feed pump directly into the esophagi of the birds and forcefully inserting massive quantities of feed into their gullets. Also documented were ducks too weak and overweight to defend themselves as rats at Sonoma Foie Gras ate their wounds.
The foie gras industry often uses staged footage in attempts to counter the overwhelming evidence and irrefutable video footage collected by animal protection groups showing the inhumane conditions on foie gras farms in the US.
“The American Veterinary Medical Association has investigated foie gras production, and for three consecutive years refused to take a position against it.”
In 2007, after three consecutive years of not taking a position, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) approved a resolution condemning the artificial force-feeding of ducks and/or geese to produce foie gras. The AVMA continues to educate its veterinarian members about the welfare and health concerns of foie gras on its website.
The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), a national veterinary medical association focused specifically on animal welfare with over 9,000 members nationwide, is opposed to foie gras. It strongly supports currently pending legislation to prohibit sale of foie gras in New York City.