Wednesday 14 June 2017

Foie Gras: A Mouthful of Cruelty?

Foie gras is a luxury food that is popular and well-known in French cuisine.  It’s not popular street food but fine dining only the well-heeled could afford.  What is it made of?  It’s liver of a duck or goose fattened by force-feeding corn with a feeding tube, a process also known as gavage.  Cruel?  You decide!

History.  Even though Foie gras is a protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France, its beginnings, at least gavage, is not French.  It owes its existence to the Egyptians, as far back as 2500 BC, who kept birds for food and deliberately fattened them through force-feeding. 

What is gavage?  It is forced feeding by means of a tube inserted into the stomach through the mouth.  In the laboratory, liquid compounds are administered directly into the stomach of mice and rats via a gastric gavage needle or a flexible tube attached to a syringe.  A similar technique is also used for babies - a tube carrying breast milk or formula to the stomach is placed through the baby’s nose.

How is Foie gras made or produced?  The common practice is having ducks or geese force fed with corn mush via a tube two or three times a day.  The objective is to produce fatty liver with a minimum weight of 300 grams.  A duck's liver weighs about 50 grams.  

According to advocates of Foie gras, the fattening of geese and ducks is based on the natural capacity of the liver of fat palmipeds to store large quantities of fat.  This process is reversible and when an animal is given moderate amounts of food, their liver gradually returns to its normal size.  Hence it does not harm the animal.  However, they fail to mention the harm caused to the animal’s esophagus and other parts of its body that could lead to a painful death.

There are also farms that do not practice forced feeding.  Hence the Foie gras produced is known as ‘ethical Foie gras’.  A farm in Spain allows his geese to eat what they want.  No force feeding.  They feed off the land. These type of farms are rare and the methods used is unconventional in this industry.

Gavage-based Foie gras production has attracted a lot of controversy due to animal welfare concerns about force-feeding, intensive housing and husbandry, and enlarging the liver. A number of countries and jurisdictions has developed laws against force-feeding, and the production, import or sale of Foie gras.  However, there are also a number of retailers who decline to stock it even though it’s legal.

Is it ethical for us to consume Foie gras?  You decide.  Do your research.  Are the methods practiced by farms ethical?  Finally, can you take that mouthful of Foie gras without feeling guilty? 

Shared by Azni Zainal Abidin
Guest Blogger

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