As we enter the season of indulgence and the consumption of everything that is considered luxurious (within our own individual budgets, of course!), we fall across the most controversial food debate of all, and that is Foie Gras.
While we understand the humungous question marks that sit over both the ethical and cruel sides of force-feeding the animals involved in the production of this delicacy, we also understand the place it has in the luxury foodstuff space, stemming back many thousands of years, so its only right to explore:
Can Fois Gras be ethical?
Well actually, there is a way that makes it wholly possible! But let’s take a few steps back and start at the beginning.
What is Foie Gras?
Foie gras is an expensive delicacy, originally produced and distributed from France. It is often made from the liver of a duck or goose that has been force-fed until it becomes fatty and enlarged.
This process has been deemed cruel to the animals involved. It has not varied much from the historical techniques people used to produce it many years ago.
Many people have called for its worldwide ban due to the ethical concerns surrounding the elements of animal cruelty, as the Foie Gras process is not a particularly nice one.
How is Foie Gras Produced?
There is no delicate way to introduce the process of force-feeding these animals.
As we have mentioned, the process has not changed much since its invention (potentially because there are not many options when it comes to feeding poultry).
It is either self-leading, which happens in free-range birds, or force-feeding, which in this case, uses tubes placed directly into the windpipes of the birds and dispensing controlled amounts of feed directly into their digestive system.
Many geese and ducks are force-fed over the course of approximately 100 days to produce Fois Gras before they are slaughtered for their now fatty livers.
Farmers will force feed ducks or geese to enlarge their livers until they grow 10 times larger than usual, which is a dangerous process that can lead to health issues for both animals and humans – but who cares, right? As long as you get velvety smooth, rich Foie Gras.
Forcing geese or ducks to fatten their livers helps produce a smooth buttery product which is classified as a delicacy.
Is Foie Gras Illegal in the UK?
Foie gras has been banned in countries around the world, including the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Poland, and Turkey, and this is because of the questionable ethics and treatment involved with its production.
Currently, in the UK, the production of Fois Gras is banned amid concerns over the cruelty and welfare of the bird involved in its production. However, the product itself can still be imported into the UK for consumption, usually from France but this is under constant review since leaving the EU.
Fois Gras is considered a luxury food item. Although you would naturally expect this to hold an extortionately high price point, you may be surprised to know that a fatty liver is actually one of the most expensive food products in the world!
It’s Cruelty with a Price Tag
Foie Gras commands one of the highest price tags across all food items and can cost £120 per kilo for the best stuff.
Can Foie Gras be Produced Without Force Feeding?
When we consider the process of making Fois Gras, the vision is birds in tight cages with pipes down their throats (called ”Gavage”), dosing them on the food they would probably not choose to eat if they had their way. This can be as much as 2.2 pounds of grain and fat 2 to 3 times a day.
Fois Gras is an intensive and invasive process. As we mentioned, it is done by giving the birds controlled doses of the food directly into their digestive system over the course of about 100 days to fatten them up before their death.
Of course, fattening them up in an unnatural way causes a fatty liver, and much like over-eating in adults, this can cause severe health issues to the birds as they have no control over the process.
Fois Gras can be produced without the need for force-feeding, believe it or not. Still, it is usually a labour of love for the farmers that operate this way for the animal’s welfare; it is time-consuming and relies heavily on the animal’s natural instinct to gorge before migration (which is an inbuilt instinct).
We will look into an example of this in the next section, as this is extremely rare in the Fois Gras production space!
Is There Cruelty-Free Foie Gras?
We are happy to say that there is a cruelty-free and more ethical development to Fois Gras, which hails from an unlikely place, Spain!
Leading this change in a place called Extremadura in Spain is a small farm called Paterià du Sousa.
The farm itself has been operating since 1812. The geese that live here are allowed to roam the vast expanse of the farm and can freely eat wild figs, fallen olives, and numerous plants and herbs scattered around.
The geese will naturally default to their instincts in the cooler autumn months. They will then gorge themselves in preparation for their natural migration during winter.
This is a natural practice for geese that Eduardo Sousa takes advantage of by allowing them to be slaughtered when they are at their most fattened without ever using gavage techniques.
Of course, the geese have more natural and free-range lives, eating at their leisure without the requirement of tubes or cages, so it is more cruelty-free and ethical than most traditional practices on this farm.
Fois Gras is considered a very pricey luxury foodstuff. The factory Fois Gras Farms process is not kind to witness or even think about.
The process of ”Gavage” is something that is commonplace in those countries that still allow the production of Fois Gras. Still, many countries have banned this process due to animal cruelty regulations, including the UK.
You can, however, still import Fois Gras from countries that produce it for consumption; it is expensive, and it is very much a luxury foodstuff (albeit wholly unethical product in the eyes of many).
So, can foie gras be ethical? Yes and taking the lead with more ethical and cruelty-free Fois Gras is the Paterià du Sousa farm in Spain, which produces a great product, by all accounts, that falls more in line with free-range animal keeping and allows their geese to have more of a natural life process.
Hats off to Paterià du Sousa!