Is Foie Gras Particularly Cruel to Animals?

An Animal Rights Perspective on the Dish

A farm hand uses a tube and a pneumatic pump to force-feed a goose with enriched corn meal to enlarge its liver
David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This article was updated and re-written in part by Michelle A. Rivera, About.Com Animal Rights Expert

Animal rights activists oppose all uses of animals and advocate veganism, but many consider foie gras to be particularly cruel. It's viewed in the same category as veal, which even most enlightened carnivores avoid.

What is Foie Gras?

Foie gras, French for "fatty liver," is the fattened liver of a duck or a goose and is regarded by some as a delicacy.

Why is Foie Gras Considered Cruel?

The production of foie gras is considered by some to be unusually cruel because the birds are force-fed a corn mash through a metal tube several times a day so that they gain weight and their livers become 10 times their natural size. Force-feeding sometimes injures the esophagus of the bird, which may lead to death. Additionally, the fattened ducks and geese may have difficulty walking, vomit undigested food, and/or suffer in extreme confinement.

Both genders of geese are used in foie gras production, but with ducks, only the males are used for foie gras while the females are raised for meat.

"Humane Foie Gras"

Some farmers now offer "humane foie gras," which is produced without force-feeding. These livers may not meet legal definitions of foie gras in some countries, which require a minimum size and/or fat content.

How Many Animals?

According to Farm Sanctuary, France produces and consumes about 75 percent of the world's foie gras, involving 24 million ducks and a half a million geese every year.

The United States and Canada use 500,000 birds per year in foie gras production. 

Foie Gras Bans

In 2004, California enacted a ban on the sale and production foie gras that was to take effect in 2012 but never did. Farm Sanctuary, which had actively and aggressively fought for the passage of the bill, reported:  "On January 7, a federal district court judge invalidated California’s ban on the sale of foie gras, a ban that Farm Sanctuary and our supporters actively worked to get passed in 2004.

The judge erroneously ruled that an unrelated federal law, the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), preempts the California foie gras ban.

 In 2006, the city of Chicago banned the production and sale of foie gras, but the ban was overturned in 2008. Several European countries have banned the production of foie gras by explicitly banning the force-feeding of animals for food production, but have not banned the import or sale of foie gras. Several other European countries, as well as Israel and South Africa have, interpreted their animal cruelty laws as banning the force-feeding of animals for foie gras production.

What Do the Experts Say?

A variety of veterinarians and scientists oppose foie gras production, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The European Union's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare investigated the production of foie gras in 1998 and concluded hat "force feeding, as currently practiced, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds."

The American Veterinary Medical Association has not taken a position for or against foie gras, but has stated  "There is a clear and pressing need for research that focuses on the condition of ducks during fattening, including the actual incidence and severity of animal welfare risks on the farm....

 The known potential risks associated with foie gras production, are:  Potential for injury due to multiple insertions of a long feeding tube, with possibility of secondary infection;  Distress from restraint and manipulations associated with force feeding;  Compromised health and welfare resulting from obesity, including the potential for impaired locomotion and lethargy; and  Creation of a vulnerable animal more likely to suffer from otherwise tolerable conditions such as heat and transport."

The Animal Rights Position

Even birds used in "humane foie gras" production are bred, confined, and killed. Regardless of whether the animals are force-fed or how well the animals are treated, foie gras can never be acceptable because using an animal in food production violates the animal's rights to be free of human use.