Inside a foie gras farm

Can foie gras be Good? In this essay on the Serious Eats blog, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt takes a tour of a farm that produces foie gras and makes a case for why fattened duck liver—long the scourge of food ethicists—maybe isn't actually the product of sadistic torture. (Via Bora Zivkovic)


  1. One farm isn’t all farms, and you won’t necessarily know the origin of any foie gras you order at a restaurant.

    Yes, this farm does seem to practice a fairly gentle and humane form of gavage, but not all farms do.

    Saying the entire industry works like this is painting the picture with pretty broad strokes. The existence of cruelty-free foie gras does not preclude the possibility of cruel foie gras.

    1. True. But then what makes foie gras any more morally questionable than meat, or vegetables? Unless you personally traced every step of the process, how do you know that the meat you eat was humanely or sustainably raised? Or that the vegetables you ate weren’t picked by exploited workers?

    2. @#1

      And what can we conclude from your comment? Absolutely nothing.

      The problem is that animal rights zealots (of the fundamentalist vegetarian variety) simply will not accept foie gras.

      That is the problem, it is them who started using the broad brush instead of pushing for proper regulation and accountability of the methods used.

  2. Seems like the article writer is a bit too eager to defend the foie gras industry based on one single farm. I find it impossible to agree that

    “Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I’m going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.”.

    The moral judgement of the production of any kind of animal products, be it eggs, meat or fur, should be judged by how the majority of farms treat their animals, not the single most perfect farm (or the one rotten egg). And I have yet to see any proof that the majority of foie gras farms treat their animals well.

    1. The moral judgement of the production of any kind of animal products, be it eggs, meat or fur, should be judged by how the majority of farms treat their animals,

      bullsnap. You’re just looking for excuses to deny well-meaning people who make a living doing something you disagree with their livelihood – and defending it by saying the very people who do it right and set the example are not doing enough to stop their competitors from doing it wrong.

      What we need is a way to encourage the ones who do it right to succeed. I recommend we shop there, you say we shouldn’t. What’s your goal? Mine is the ethical husbandry of animals.

      1. I never said I wouldn’t buy foie gras from that particular farm. I said that it’s not helpful to judge the whole industry based on that farm. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

        1. Did you read what you actually wrote before claiming I misrepresented you?

          You slag off the whole industry as immoral, and state that the best actors deserve the same moral judgement as the worst. How am I to believe, based on what you communicated, that you would even consider buying fois gras? Maybe you meant something else, but what you said was pretty clear.

          fwiw, i think the stuff is tasty, in tiny amounts, rarely. And I do have the benefit of knowing where mine comes from.

          1. I think the point being made by vette was that the average (or the mean, I can never remember which is which) is where someone needs to look when judging an industry. Not the best and the worst, but the average. How are MOST animals treated before they are slaughtered?

            That’s not the same as saying “These people who are really nice to their goats are EXACTLY AS BAD as these people who kick their goats for fun and profit.”

          2. See this becomes really interesting if a certain percentage of producers (e.g. half, two-thirds, etc) are at one extreme (very humane) and the rest are at the other extreme (e.g. sadistic goat-kickers as per your example). How do you evaluate the overall standards of the industry using an average?

            If, for example, half of the producers are humane and half are sadistic, then could you say that the industry treats animals ‘decently’ on average (assuming ‘decent’ lies in-between the extremes). Could you say that the industry is treating is animals ‘somewhat ethically’ on average?

            There would need to be some very specific conditions attached to the mean (e.g. distribution around the mean, etc) for it to be used for evaluating ethical standands. Does anybody actually know if it’s possible to make a (valid?) statistical/probabilitistic argument in a discussion of moral/ethical problems?

            On a sidenote – is it just me or is a philosophical discussion about statistics (or maybe a statistical discussion about philosophy) kinda hot? Perhaps I’m just weird like that…

      2. I recommend we shop there, you say we shouldn’t. What’s your goal? Mine is the ethical husbandry of animals.

        Well, husbandry is one thing. Treatment is another.

        These people seem to be fairly kind in their treatment of geese, but they don’t allow husbandry. All the males are shipped off to Trinidad(?!?!). They are raised for slaughter, and so are their husbands. This is about meat. Husbandry doesn’t factor in at all.

        Trinidad? Yes, apparently Trinidad. Go figure, huh?

        1. “husbandry” = breeding AND raising.

          Did you have some other point or were you just detracting from my point without the courtesy of disagreeing with it?

        2. #19, Wow, you really rushed through that article! It’s the females that are sent to Trinidad as meat stock. The males grow larger livers. The farmer is simply trying to maximize profit from his stock. There’s no reason to keep the females for further breeding because the birds that are hatched for production (Moulards) are sterile hybrids of two source species (Muscovies and Pekins).

          Several “anti gras” comments I’ve read seem to be from people who read only the first few paragraphs of the article and then scanned the rest (thus missing a lot of the supporting information). No matter what your position is on a topic, it never really helps your stance to just ignore the other side of the argument.

    2. @ #2

      Utter nonsense.

      The standards should be judged in a case by case basis.

      If a given industry is found to have systemic problems this should be addressed, but only after doing a systematic *individual* assesment of the companies involved in the industry in question.

    1. Well, there are only three foie gras farms in the United States, as the article states. Go visit them all. This article describes Le Belle Farms as being humane, ethical and responsible. Other articles have done the same for Hudson Valley. So that makes the majority — 66 percent — of U.S. foie gras producers responsible.

      Can you say the same about the other things you consume, or are you just going to close your eyes and refuse to look at evidence?

      1. I really think you should read the entire conversation between myself and vette that you are responding to – you’re berating me for being on your side, when you intend to be sticking it to him.

  3. Any use of animals involves exploitation and is inherently wrong. Kinder, gentler exploitation doesn’t make it right. Would you condone a kinder and gentler form of child abuse or rape?

    1. Any use of animals involves exploitation and is inherently wrong.

      We are all entitled to our opinions. I find that sustainable farming of animals for human consumption to be amoral. As long as death is quick and painless, I see very little problems with it as long as it is put to good use.

    2. Would you condone a kinder and gentler form of child abuse or rape?

      just repeating this as an example of why exactly the PETA girls have to take their clothes off to get noticed, folks like this who equate owning a dog to fucking it.

      1. “just repeating this as an example of why exactly the PETA girls have to take their clothes off to get noticed, folks like this who equate owning a dog to fucking it.”

        you mean EATING a dog.

        I live with a cat. I would never eat her.

        (but under the right circumstances, she would eat me. Starting with my nose. But I still love her. Nevertheless.)

        1. no, he said ANY USE we make of them, not just the eating uses… and my gosh, did I react to hyperbole with hyperbole? Perhaps I was speaking the language used by the one I was addressing?

    3. @ #4

      Exploitation of animals is not comparable to the crimes you are naming, and even those, hideous as they are, at some point would have been considered acceptable ( child abuse was normal part of many cultures, even today child brides are common in many cultures in what is clearly child abuse to modern Western eyes; I don’t need to be a femenist to remind how rape has been pretty much tolerated for most of human history by most societies if it ocurred between husband and wife; so don’t hold your certainities so dear, because it is easy to probe they are reltivities, even tough I agree the practices named are hidesou to any Westernized person).

      In nature some animals exploit others for their own survival. It is natural and normal, and for us homans it is entirely ethical to do so.

      We humans hold ourselves, rightly, to a higher standard of behaviour because we understand better than all the other animals the nature of pain and can meditate about the moral implications of inflicting pain into other animals in order to satisfy our needs.

      But exploiting an animal is not immoral, unnatural or unethical, it is our intelligence and relative mores what guides our moral compass in order to avoid unnecessary pain on animals during the exploitation process (and even this is a Westernized view, anybody that has wandered through markets outside western, normally rich, countries can attest to this).

      Unfortunately for the radical elements of the animal rights movement, all the terms they are dealing with are eminently relative, so there is such a thing as a point of view about what kind of pain is acceptable or not when exploiting animals, because different groups of people will have differnt answers, needs, traditions and requirements (normally of religious character) when solving the problem of transforming the beast in front of them in a tasty morsel.

  4. I’m not blanket against foie gras… I am a new ex-vegetarian and have been re-working my perceptions of the meat industry, so I don’t know how I feel about foie gras from a non-animal rights perspective yet. Jury’s still out, but this article certainly didn’t help anything and doesn’t make me want to trust foodies very much. It’s like they (and most of the people I see posting the article after) are just looking for a way to declare this humane so they don’t have to feel guilty about eating the products.

    It bothers me that they did not allow the gravage to be filmed. That’s literally the only part of this whole process that non-vegetarians consider controversial, and we’re supposed to take someone’s word for it.

    Finally, it’s horrendously irresponsible to judge an industry only by the best within it.

    1. I’m a pragmatic vegetarian – I don’t expect or even suggest people to skip eating meat, but I’d like to see better conditions in our food chain as a whole. This article was just an attempt at whitewashing a practice that may or may not be humane while assuaging their guilt. It was not much different than saying “I’m against factory farming because of the conditions they keep their chickens, but this place I went to upstate treated their chickens well, so maybe farming eggs isn’t so bad.”

      I’m not in favour of fois gras nor would I be cheering for a ban on it. But to judge the industry on the how humane this place is would be the same as banning just it because one farm keeps the ducks penned up with dead animals 24 hrs a day.

  5. I personally don’t eat animals or use animal products but this sounds like what animal farming should aspire to – a good life and a clean death for the creatures involved.

  6. I read the article – I still don’t get how force-feeding an animal to give it liver disease is not sadistic torture.

    Sure this sounds wholesome and artisinal, but arguing that this isn’t torture seems to mimic the exact failed rationals and arguments that waterboarding isn’t torture.

    1. It’s not a disease. Only geese and ducks are used for foie gras, because they are migratory birds: the process of quickly stocking fat in their liver is natural and occur naturally before migration (if they can feed enough).

      So you can argue on the human-made process, the fact of forcing the birds to create this steatosis. But being horrified of the steatosis itself is ludicrous.

    2. Well, perhaps you’d like to prohibit ducks and geese from swimming in 50-degree waters and to keep them from flapping their wings on hours on end because somehow you think this is “torture.”

      Gavage is something ducks and geese do NATURALLY. Of their own volition. In the wild. That a human encourages the duck to do it on a schedule doesn’t make it cruel, any more than encouraging it to fly would be.

        1. #33. Go to a lake. Look at any duck. Look at any goose. There, you’ve seen birds that naturally forcefeed themselves until their livers turn to fat.

  7. I really appreciate the paragraph about ducks anatomy and why it doesn’t hurt them to have a steel tube inserted in their throat, because ducks don’t gag or suffocate this way. “You wouldn’t like to have it done to you” is the most common argument used by ignorants, because they don’t realise birds and humans have different body parts. Have you ever seen a swallow or a sparrow feed it’s hatchlings ? The youngs litteraly ram their head into the parent mouth while he’s regurgitating, without causing any discomfort.

    Besides that, I think all this bad rap about foie gras is also a way for the fast-food industry to keep americans in their “no-culture” food model, when logically like any developped country, they should have access to this kind of quality products.

  8. Arguing about food and how it is made is such a privilege!

    God bless the first world.

    Here is a dumb joke I just made up to celebrate how fortunate we all are:

    “What do you call PETA after foie gras get outlawed?”

    “rebel without a gras”

    Nature is crueler than humans are. That duck should be so fortunate to have it’s belly fattened than starve on a frozen bank only to be eaten by hungry fox.

    Me, I don’t eat it, I don’t like it, but I can appreciate it and dislike it at the same time.

    Boy what a rambling post. Sorry for the waste of bits.

  9. I probably eat more chicken than any other animal product, so the idea of giant corporate factory farms for chicken and eggs are much more disgusting to me than what I see in this article. And all the trickery of the food industry in total is more evil to me. Every time I try to seek out local or organic etc I often find out that those “family farms” are still owned by some giant company.

    Since I eat meat, I’d prefer people who are trying to be conscientious of both animals and people to be producing that meat.

    Focusing on one animal when the whole system is so f’d up doesn’t change the system.

    1. If you’re looking actually farm raised food, seek out your local 4H, or go to state or county fairs, and talk to the people showing animals. The majority of them (at least where I live) are in it as farmers (to raise animals for food) rather than raising pets. Animals there are often for sale, and can often be processed by a third party before you receive them (if you don’t have the experience/space/stomach for such things). The resulting meat does cost more than at the grocery store, but you can know exactly how it was produced. Also, many people are willing to have you visit their farms, to show you how it actually all works.
      In some cases, the animals are raised to ‘market standard’, meaning they may be fattened towards the end of their lives, to produce marbling (like in cows). If you don’t prefer this (I don’t), ask around, and someone will surely be able to point you towards grass-fed animals. Again, it will cost more, but I (among others) think it’s worth it.
      *whew, lot longer than I anticipated*

  10. Huh, interesting article. Educated me quite a lot on how foie gras is produced in general. I agree with what someone else put earlier that all farms should aspire to be as well run as the one in the article. I’ve never had foie gras & will probably never eat it as I am poor. And because I’m poor, I’m also a jerk who eats cheap eggs from industrial farms. Every time I buy a carton of eggs, I try not to think about the terrible living conditions of the animals they came from. I don’t have the space my parents did when I was a kid to raise a few chickens and have fresh eggs myself.

  11. Disclosure: I have eaten and enjoyed foie gras on occasion without too much concern about the ethics of the production of it.

    However, the article in question doesn’t really try to answer the question, “Is foie gras ethical?” I think a better way of phrasing it is “can foie gras EVER be ethically produced?” It seems to me that the answer is “yes”, from the video in the article that the author claimed was similar to what he saw. Mind you, it doesn’t really look like the goose particularly enjoys the process, but neither is it showing significant signs of distress and discomfort immediately after the procedure, which is gratifyingly quick.

    If, as the author claims, all 3 producers in the US are similarly run and similarly ethical in their treatment of the animals, I would be hard-pressed to claim that this is any worse or any more unethical than any large-scale farming, for meat or dairy or leather or wool. Sheep seem a lot more freaked about getting sheared than those geese seemed about getting force-fed.

    So if the claim is true regarding the US-based producers, it seems that the answer is simple: if you care about ethically-produced foie gras, insist on domestic. In this day of cheap overnight shipping, it seems like a no-brainer.

    1. Most restaurants serving fresh fish provide information about the source for it, either on the menu or if you ask. All they need to do is say “Foie Gras de Moulard, domestic.” If there are only three U.S. farms and and three are above recourse, that would let people know up front what they’re eating.

      It should be noted though, that there are two flaws with this “simple” fix. First, the fact is that people lie, and restaurants get caught all the time lying about their food supplies (a sushi bar in Santa Monica served whale to a vegan earlier this year Then there’s the fact that some of the people who are hunting out foie gras are the same people hunting out lion, zebra, and ,well, whale. People hunting for “a taste no one else has had” will seek out the imported stuff, and then there’ll be no control over the animals’ treatment.

  12. “Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I’m going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.”.

    Wow. Just wow.
    So, since my parents raise one cow a year, feed it well, and quickly end its life, in a humane way, I should be okay the mass-produced meat from factory farms?

    This article is bullshit.

    I’m having a hard time seeing that no matter how nicely you feed a bird, forcing it to have a liver expand over 600% normal is cruel. Surely anyone can see this? Right?

    1. I was thinking the same. It’s not right to raise waterfowl in a barn, and to have no access to a pond. You can raise waterfowl humanely but that farm doesn’t. Most of the farms out there are much worse than this one. Man up and raise, hunt and fish for your own meat.

    2. “I’m having a hard time seeing that no matter how nicely you feed a bird, forcing it to have a liver expand over 600% normal is cruel. Surely anyone can see this? Right?”

      WRONG. On their own volition in the wild, waterfowl gorge themselves until their livers expand to six or seven times their normal size. It’s how they sustain their migrations south for the winter.

      Let me reiterate this for you, since you’re apparently completely ignorant of bird physiology and seem to think that a duck’s body is just like a human’s:

      Birds do this naturally. Having this liver fattening phenomenon is about as cruel as nudging a bird off of the roof to make it fly or having a human being eat lunch a little earlier because he has a noontime meeting and won’t be able to eat until three. In each case, you’re nudging an animal to do what it was going to do on its own anyway.

  13. I was about to say force feeding something until it was obese and sick was inhuman until I remebered the time I went to the Country Kitchen Buffet.

  14. Frankly, there IS a way to eat “Ethical, cruelty free Foie Gras”…

    —Extreme veggies, extreme animal rights freaks can go lalala here—

    It’s called “For each it’s season”…

    Simply put, wait till FALL.

    Wanna raise some?
    Have some ducks semi-free range, like can waddle through a yard, have a pond, but wings clipped. Feed them as much as they can eat. Grain, forage for bugs, misc. food. Maybe even have a cricket colony so you can ensure tons of insects to eat. If you have a few acres of grassland, and a pond, you’ll have tons of insects and just will need to add grain though birds will try to eat (and mostly succeed) just about anything…

    In fall, the ducks, geese, any other “Migratory cycle” birds will eat and eat and eat and eat. They will expertly stuff themselves, and do so in a way they don’t really hurt themselves as can be done with force feeding. They will eat themselves almost but not quite sick.

    Then, harvest them. You’ll have naturally fat, big, healthy birds. And while their livers might not be as big as “Factory Farm” Foie Gras, they’ll be 10x richer. Kind of like real garden tomato compared to mega mart tomato.

    Do this, you’ll have “Organic, free range, Cruelty free Foie Gras”… Oh, and big, BIG birds to sell for meat too. And this would be far more merciful than any commercial “Factory Farm” and since it’s already sold as a delicacy no real price issue. Someone who’d pay $40 for one would pay you $60 for yours. Have a few photos to show them how your birds “have only one bad day”.

  15. While it is true that one farm does not tell the whole picture, there is one thing that gives me confidence and tells me that most farms are humane: if most farms were “cruel”, and most consumers care about how animals are treated, the farms which use better methods could certainly advertise.

    Labels are not perfect, but they can be a useful and important signal.

    Also I wouldn’t be surprise if less stressed animals tasted better, which matters to the high-end chefs and brands that serve foie gras.

  16. I’m having a hard time seeing that no matter how nicely you feed a bird, forcing it to have a liver expand over 600% normal is cruel. Surely anyone can see this? Right?

    Anyone that has no idea what they are talking about can see this.

    It’s pretty sad watching a normally smart crowd succumb to the same fear-mongering anti-information types of stories that get bashed so regularly on this blog.

    Why don’t you all practice what you preach and read up on something before you post stupid reactions about it?

    How about starting here:

  17. It’s some monstrous sense of entitlement not only to claim the power to do what we want, because we CAN, let’s see ya stop me! and also the smug satisfaction that our precious yumyums are “ethical.” Yes, yes, just sit still and grin so I can ADMIRE us. We are so awesome.

    1. “It’s some monstrous sense of entitlement not only to claim the power to do what we want, because we CAN, let’s see ya stop me! and also the smug satisfaction that our precious yumyums are “ethical.” Yes, yes, just sit still and grin so I can ADMIRE us. We are so awesome.”

      Oh, grow up. No animal survives without “exploiting” some other living thing, whether it be a plant — which has just as much right to survive as an animal — or some other animal. The only obligation we have is to avoid causing needless suffering.

      As zoologists, animal experts and veterinarians have all asserted that gavage, the method used to fatten goose and duck livers in foie gras production, to be painless and to cause no discomfort whatsoever, eating foie gras is no different from eating meat. In fact, it is BETTER than eating factory farmed meat.

      However, if you truly wish to avoid harming other living organisms, please do feel free to remove yourself from the food chain; I certainly won’t mind.

  18. Fascinating article.

    Unless I’m misreading some of these arguments, some commenters are saying “You should feel bad about how other farms do this, even if you buy yours from a farm you know doesn’t.” Besides being wrong in general, this is the second largest foie gras farm in the country, and there are only three, as has been mentioned before.

    The reason bird livers work like this is their adaptation to migration. Ecology is a necessity of foie gras, apparently.

    The most interesting thing in that whole article, to me? Apparently, ducks breathe through their tongues. Wait, what? Personally, I’m going to go look that up tomorrow.

  19. Hmm, so ducks naturally fatten up their livers for migration anyway and lack the gag reflex we do that would make feeding by a tube so uncomfortable for us. I hadn’t known about that explicitly before, but it makes sense.

    Gee, it’s almost as if duck physiology actually differs from human physiology! And maybe we shouldn’t judge what happens to ducks by whether we’d like the same to happen to us without understanding the differences between ducks and humans.

  20. I only had foie gras once and it tasted awful. I’ve been told it wasn’t “prepared correctly”. I was quite upset because it’s supposed to be goddamn delicious, no?

  21. Disclosure: Ex-veg.

    Foie gras is an amazingly delicacy and utilizing it to sustain my life force on occasion has resulted in several pleasurable dining experiences.

  22. Liver. YUCK.

    That’s where all the organophosphates and heavy metals get concentrated. You know, those pollutants that were pumped into the environment so you could sit on your couch and “surf” the Internet? Yeah, those. Your bird livers are dripping with that kind of stuff.

    Liver is filter tissue. Everything the bird breathes or eats that is so bad for it that it can’t even be pooped out ends up in the liver. Bon Apetit!

    1. My thoughts exactly!

      I have no ethical concern with foie gras. In fact, I think by trying to limit its sale, we encourage the import of it from other countries where the treatment of the birds may not be as kind or at least well-regulated. I’m just totally disinterested in eating another animal’s pool filter.

  23. just as long as you dont fight dogs! only cute animals suffer!

    it really is pathetic the hoops people will jump through to rationalize brutalizing animals.

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