What Is Foie Gras And Why Is It So Controversial?

Foie gras is one of the most controversial foods in the world. It’s considered horrendous even by many people who wouldn’t flinch at the thought of eating any other animal product.

Foie Gras petition led by celebrities and campaigners
Image Credit: Animal Equality International

It’s not just vegans who consider the production of foie gras barbaric or who become viscerally repulsed at the thought of how it’s made.

Currently, no major supermarket chain in the UK stocks the product and there are plans to ban imports after years of campaigning.

But what is foie gras, how is it made and why does it upset so many people?

What is Foie Gras?

Foie gras is the fatty liver of a duck or goose. It’s made by force-feeding ducks or geese and is similar to pâté.

It’s considered a delicacy by some, but to most people, it is something much more horrific.

How is Foie Gras Made?

To produce foie gras, ducks and geese are force-fed grotesque amounts of food up to three times a day. A tube or funnel is pushed down their throats (this is known as the “gavage process”).

Food is forced into their stomachs and, as a result, the birds’ livers swell, sometimes increasing to about ten times their natural size.

The birds will suffer not just from the engorging process itself. They will suffer side effects relating to the sheer quantity of corn they are forced to consume.

It is hard to imagine many things more awful happening to a living creature.

Foie gras gavage process
Image Credit: Animal Equality UK

Even at farms where such incredibly harrowing events have not been reported, ducks and geese experience incredible hardships.

Not only is the feeding process itself violent and traumatic, often causing internal injury or death, but most ducks are also kept in cages and some never see water.

The immense stress caused by being away from their natural habitat is startling and side effects include blindness.

Even the birds who avoid the worst injuries of the gavage process may find themselves in constant discomfort due to the artificially large size of their livers; some suffer from distended abdomens as a result of their feeding.

Where Is it Bought And Sold?

France is by far the largest producer and consumer of foie gras. It accounts for up to 79% of the world’s production according to a 2012 report by Animal Equality

Bulgaria and Hungary have historically accounted for producing large quantities of the swollen bird liver. The United States and China are large consumers of the product.

Is it banned?

In the UK, it has been illegal to produce foie gras since August 2000. However, it is not against the law to import the product, despite campaigns to introduce a ban.

This loophole has been addressed by a number of celebrities including Thandie Newton, Dev Patel, Joanna Lumley, Ricky Gervais, Bill Oddie and Veganuary ambassadors Chris Packham, Peter Egan, and Evanna Lynch – the group all publicly backed Animal Equality’s campaign to ban the import of foie gras.

The production of foie gras is so controversial that a number of countries including Germany, Italy, Argentina, Luxembourg and Turkey have banned it outright.

A free living duck
Image credit: CarolineG2011 via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Why is Foie Gras Cruel?

The practise of force-feeding geese and ducks causes horrific suffering. In their natural habitat, ducks are social animals who live together in large flocks and who migrate in family groups.

Like us, they work during the day (searching for food) and sleep at night alongside their families. Also, like us, they apparently have regional accents!

Geese are equally interesting birds who, outside the farming system, live fascinating lives.

Most geese are vegetarians, incredibly sociable, and some form flocks of hundreds or even thousands when they migrate in autumn or winter.

Some geese, though, chose to remain in just one location all year. Geese and ducks share a common desire to live a life free from captivity and suffering.

What Can I Do About it?

There are several actions you can take to make a difference.

  • Share this article to let other people know about the horrors of foie gras and the lives of the birds involved in the industry
  • Look out for petitions in your country to put further pressure on banning the practice
  • You could boycott venues where foie gras features on the menu
  • If you have previously eaten foie gras and really enjoy the taste but want to avoid harming duck or geese, we recommend trying vegan foie gras recipes – usually, the plant-based versions are cleverly renamed as “faux gras”

If this article has got you thinking about animal suffering, we’d love for you to try our 31-day vegan pledge. When you sign up, we’ll send you a free cookbook, meal plans and a nutrition guide to get you started!

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