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Foie Gras In The UK

Updated: May 7, 2022

Foie gras is a, so-called, specialty food product that is made of the fattened liver of a duck or goose. According to French law, foie gras is defined as the liver of a duck or goose fattened by gavage, or force feeding. In some countries foie gras is occasionally produced using natural feeding, however force feeding is far more common. In the process of producing foie gras ducks are force-fed twice a day for 12 and a half days and geese three times a day for around 17 days. Ducks are typically slaughtered at 100 days and geese at 112 days. The liver is taken and used as meat, it is often sold to high end restaurants and is considered a delicacy.

geese, birds, ducks
Geese should be free to fly not kept in cages

A Brief History Of Foie Gras

It was around 2500 BC that the ancient Egyptians learned that many birds could be fattened through forced overfeeding. In the necropolis of Saqqara, in the tomb of Mereruka, an important Egyptian royal official, there is a bas relief scene that shows workers holding geese by their necks and pushing food down their throats. In the scene tables are piled with food pellets, and a flask for wetting the feed before giving it to the geese. The practice of eating the fattened livers of ducks and geese spread from Egypt across the Mediterranean and around the world, but became popular amongst the rich of Europe, particularly in France, where most foie gras is produced today.

The Health And Happiness Of The Birds

Most foie gras is produced through force feeding the birds, a process called gavage. Force feeding birds has many animal welfare consequences, the farming of the birds also includes intensive housing and husbandry, usually in cages, an enlarged liver with the potential for the death of the birds during the feeding and breathing problems caused by livers so large that lung function is impaired. Eating this meat product is also detrimental to human health.

  • Mental Health: Geese and ducks that are force fed show avoidance behaviour toward the person who feeds them and the feeding procedure. The birds do not like it and it hurts them. Farming geese and ducks involves keeping the birds confined, previously, in France, the birds were kept alone, they are now kept in cages of 4 or 5, however they cannot fly, they can barely move and this causes them stress. This is compounded by the birds being moved to individual cages during force feeding. The cages restrict the movements of the birds, they cannot stand, they cannot flap their wings and they have no access to open water.

  • Physical Health: An EU committee reported in 1998 that there was usually clear evidence of tissue damage in the esophagus of birds which had been gavage fed and more recent scientific studies have shown that the esophagus of birds can be injured or become inflamed by gavage feeding. The birds also suffer from lesions on the skin of their chests, causing the skins to die, necrosis and, like chickens, the birds can also have to endure broken bones during transport and slaughter. Foie gras production means that the birds' liver becomes swollen. In some species of duck, the size of the liver changes seasonally, increasing by as much as 30% to 50%, with more pronounced changes in females. However, foie gras production enlarges the livers up to 10 times (or 1,000%) their normal size. This damages the liver and stops it from functioning properly due to the blocking of blood flow. The enlarged liver also expands the abdomen, making it difficult for the birds to breathe, this can cause death.

Foie Gras In The UK

In Britain farmers were banned from producing foie gras in 2006 under the Animal Welfare Act. The act made it a criminal offence to not provide for an animal’s welfare needs or to allow an animal to suffer unnecessarily, this includes making sure that they are provided with a suitable diet, shelter and that the animals are protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease. However, the UK imports 180 to 200 tonnes of foie gras each year, almost exclusively from France.

Recently a plan was formed to ban the sale and import of foie gras and fur in the UK as a part of the Animals Abroad Bill, however this may be dropped from the bill following objections led by cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and a small group of politicians. Although it is only a small number of objections, the bill is being delayed and the ban on foie gras imports could be removed. Protests against the removal of the ban are currently taking place and people are standing up for the ducks and geese in an attempt to get the bill through Parliament.

You can contact your local MP to voice your opinion, to let them know that foie gras should not be imported and that the UK must take a stand against such cruel practices. Click HERE to go to the PETA website where you can find more information on how to stand up for the birds.


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