A new PETA US investigation of Hudson Valley Foie Gras - a Sullivan County, New York, farm that supplies the Gordon Ramsay-licensed restaurant at The London NYC hotel - has revealed abysmal factory-farm conditions at America's self-styled "premier producers of foie gras".
PETA US' investigator documented that prior to the force-feeding period, young ducks at Hudson Valley are crammed by the thousands into huge warehouse-like sheds, conditions that are hardly gourmet or free-range but in fact are virtually identical to those for broiler chickens and turkeys on standard factory farms. In nature, ducks spend almost all their time in or near water, yet birds at Hudson Valley have no access to water for swimming or bathing at any time during their short lives.
Ducks start the force-feeding process when they are just 9 to 12 weeks old, at which point they are transferred to wire pens. Up to a dozen birds are confined to a pen measuring just 4 feet by 6 feet. PETA US' investigator saw workers drag ducks by their necks along the wire floor and pin the ducks between their legs before ramming metal tubes down their throats and pumping food into their stomachs. Hudson Valley's manager told PETA US' investigator that this is done three times a day, every day, for three weeks.
Force-feeding often causes tears and splits in the birds' oesophagi. According to avian welfare expert Dr Ian Duncan, "[T]he regular insertion of a feeding tube down the esophagus several times a day will inevitably lead to damage of the esophagus. When the esophagus becomes damaged, then the painfulness of every force-feeding episode will be exacerbated".
Force-fed birds' livers become diseased and swell to up to 10 times their normal size - or about the size of a rugby ball. By this time, many of the birds can barely walk and pant constantly. Veterinarian Holly Cheever, who has studied force-feeding's effects on ducks, explains, "Due to the enormous size of the livers ... the birds have no room for their air sacs to fill with oxygen, and therefore all birds in the last 10-14 days of [force-feeding] show respiratory distress ... analogous to feeling as if one is smothering for that entire length of time".
By Hudson Valley's own calculations, some 15,000 ducks on the farm die every year before they can be slaughtered. Even though a manager paradoxically told PETA US' investigator that the ducks "don't get sick", 41 birds, on average, drop dead at the facility every single day.
Common causes of death on foie gras farms include ruptured organs, throat injuries, liver failure, and heat stress--all direct results of force-feeding. Some ducks die of aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when the grain is forced down into the ducks' lungs or when birds choke on their own vomit.
Those ducks who do survive long enough to be slaughtered are killed on site at Hudson Valley, where PETA US' investigator documented at least one bird still moving after his throat had been cut.
Such cruelty is not confined to America. PETA UK found similar conditions on a French goose farm that supplies Fortnum & Mason's foie gras distributor. Our investigator saw birds trying to flee in terror from the force-feeder and panting as they struggled to suck air into their compressed lungs. The resulting video captured the horrific treatment of geese at the abattoir, where the birds had knives plunged into their throats without prior stunning, in contravention of both UK and French law.
Foie gras production is so cruel that at least 15 countries have banned it, including the UK, Australia, Germany and Israel. It has been denounced by many well-respected chefs and restaurateurs, including Wolfgang Puck and Albert Roux. Prince Charles refuses to serve it, as do the BAFTAs, the Brit Awards, Wimbledon, Lords Cricket Ground, both Houses of Parliament and Compass Group, the UK's largest caterer.
Gordon Ramsay has spoken out against some of the pork industry's worst factory-farming practices on his show, The F Word. Hopefully, Ramsay and other chefs will swear off this particular "F" word - foie gras - for the same reason that they reject other cruelly produced foods such as battery eggs, crate-raised veal and shark-fin soup. There's nothing gourmet about force-feeding. Chefs and consumers are paying top dollar for bottom-of-the-barrel cruelty.