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Foie Gras: A Serving of Disease

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Message Heather Moore

It looks like ducks and geese may finally be getting a little revenge on people who eat foie gras, the so-called delicacy made from the birds’ diseased livers. Researchers with the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine recently discovered a link between foie gras and amyloid-related diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, type-2 diabetes, and tuberculosis. This news shouldn’t shock anyone (and it’s a shame that animals in a laboratory were made to suffer)—if you eat  “diseased food,” you are likely to develop disease. And lest we forget, foie gras has never been considered a healthy food: It derives 85 percent of its calories from fat: a 2-ounce serving contains 25 grams of fat and 85 milligrams of cholesterol. But as bad as foie gras is for humans, it’s the ducks and geese who suffer the most.

Foie gras farmers ram metal pipes down the birds’ throats two or three times a day and pump as much as 4 pounds of grain and fat into the animals’ stomachs. The pipes puncture many birds’ throats, sometimes causing them to bleed to death. The birds’ livers become engorged and can expand up to 12 times their normal size—a disease known as “hepatic steatosis.” The birds have difficulty standing, and they become so stressed that they tear out their own feathers. Many suffer from internal hemorrhaging, fungal and bacterial infections, and hepatic encephalopathy, a brain ailment caused when their livers fail.  

The mortality rate of birds raised for foie gras has been found to be as much as 20 times higher than that of birds raised normally, and carcasses show wing fractures and severe tissue damage to the throat muscles. 

Investigations at every foie gras farm in the United States and throughout Europe have documented sick, dead and dying animals. One investigation in New York found ducks with bloody beaks and their wings twisted together, jammed into wire cages. At another farm, birds dangled from wires as blood spilled from their neck wounds onto live birds beneath them. 

Fifteen countries have banned foie gras production, the Chicago City Council outlawed the sale of foie gras, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill to ban the production and sale of foie gras in the state, starting in 2012. Politicians in New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Oregon have proposed similar legislation.

The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare and many other experts worldwide have also deemed foie gras production inhumane. Marcia Keith, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, has stated that “[f]orcing animals to overeat to the extent that their livers are expanded to 10 to 12 times the normal size and then feeding those livers to humans as a delicacy seems barbaric, senseless and clearly unnecessary.” 

His Holiness Benedict XVI has condemned foie gras, saying, “Animals, too, are God's creatures . . . Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.” 

And yet some people remain indifferent, callous even, to the birds’ suffering. If they can’t find it in their hearts to stop eating foie gras because it’s cruel, I hope they’ll use their brains and stop eating diseased duck liver because it’s sickly.  

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Heather Moore is a freelance writer and a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Norfolk, Va., where she lives with her rescued dog, Carly. Heather frequently writes on animal rights and health issues as a freelance (more...)
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