Should foie gras be on the menu?

The  Staff Canteen

Heston Blumenthal restaurants recently dropped their foie gras supplier after a video surfaced showing the conditions the birds were subjected to.

The video showed ducks with throats injured by over-feeding, covered in vomit and with injured feet. We take a look at the controversial product from both sides. Foie gras is French for ‘fatty liver’, and is commonly obtained by force feeding the birds copious amounts of corn.

Seared Foie Gras with Mission Fig and Balsamic Reduction - www.thespruce.com

Seared Foie Gras with Mission Fig and

Balsamic Reduction - www.thespruce.com

Ben Williamson, press officer for PETA said: “Foie gras comes from the inexcusable suffering of birds. These birds are force fed by pipes that are rammed down their throats several times a day, their livers swell to 10 times their natural size, sometimes their legs buckle from their own distended livers and they are unable to move.

“It is a despicable, inhumane product; it is torture in a tin.”

PETA campaigns against the sale of foie gras and provides members of the public with information to contact PETA to inform them if their local shop, hotel, restaurant etc may be selling foie gras. PETA responds with a letter informing the establishment of the way it is produced.

Ben said: “PETA also promotes faux gras, a completely plant based alternative made without causing any harm to animals and it tastes delicious. In Belgium it is a very high selling product and we are trying to make it the same in the UK.

“A vast majority of supermarkets in the UK like Sainsbury’s and department stores like House of Fraser, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, refuse to sell foie gras, the Lords cricket grounds have banned it, the Royal Shakespeare Company have banned it, Prince Charles refuses to have it on royal menus, it is a despicable product and the only establishments still serving foie gras I think are dying out.” 

We took to Facebook to find out what you thought about foie gras and we were inundated with responses. Here are just a few:

Damian O'Kane said: “Anybody that tries to justify animal cruelty by saying the end result tastes great is just narrow minded, selfish and arrogant. If you go to a restaurant and foie gras is not on the menu, it's not the end of the world. Grow up and choose an alternative.”

Melanie Jayne Coleman said: “Every animal suffers for our kitchen. So honour the animal and make every dish as awesome as you can.”

Ross Thompson said: “I agree chefs are small minded until they see the animal being force fed, but there is a larger scale problem with every type of food, chickens being fed to make them fat enough to cull but they can't grow fast enough to manage their own weight, fluoride in water and cancerous chemicals on everyday fruit and veg.”

Brodie Blake said: “Should we stop eating everything now? Know your supplier if it worries you. I’d rather be a force fed duck than a chicken in an industrial sized farm! Next we will worry that our potatoes are grown too close together!”

Kevin John King said: “The production leaves a bitter taste in the mouth that spoils any enjoyment. I believe we should all have knowledge of the production of our raw ingredients and make value judgements with that in mind.”       

Marc Soper said: “It’s no different to any meat product or fish. Respect the life of the animal and be grateful for the product. I believe production is still fine if it is done humanely.”

Anne-Sophie Rayment said: “Good on Heston! This is awful and an abuse of our power over animals.”                                           

Chris Riales said: “There are humane ways of farming the ducks to get good products. It’s no secret that the happier they are, the healthier and plumper they get.”

PETA is not the only charity opposing the production of foie gras, the RSPCA also urge retailers and restaurants not to stock or serve foie gras. Dr Marc Cooper, RSPCA farm animal scientist, said: "Traditional foie gras production is unnecessarily cruel and we urge consumers not to buy it. The production technique can cause a variety of welfare problems including torn throats and liver disease for the birds. They undoubtedly suffer."

Another charity strongly opposed to foie gras production is animal charity Viva!, who campaign to end the importing of foie gras into the UK by educating the public of the methods used to obtain the foie gras, and by asking politicians to change the law in order to ban foie gras imports into the UK.

Justin Kerswell, campaigns manager and deputy director of Viva! said: “We believe that foie gras production is tantamount to torture. Force a duck or goose to ingest so much corn mush that his liver expands to up to ten times its natural size can’t be anything else.

“It is worth remembering that the production of foie gras is illegal in Britain. It makes a mockery of our sovereign welfare laws that it can still be imported.

peta
PETA

“With freedom of choice comes responsibility. Ultimately British society is held together by a framework of laws, rules and accepted moral conventions. Foie gras is simply beyond the pale. “Products produced by methods made illegal in this country because of laws set up to protect animals should not be allowed to be imported into Britain and served in restaurants here. It is only because of a quirk in trade laws that this happens. Avoiding serving and eating foie gras is the right thing to do.”

However this is just one side of the debate, as there are many restaurants still serving foie gras in the UK and there is an obvious demand for the product in these restaurants. The Staff Canteen has featured a number of foie gras recipes, images and videos over the years from top chefs such as Tom Aikens, Brett Graham, John Williams, Arnaud Bignon, Michael Caines and Russell Bateman. So it seems it is a product still in use by many in the culinary industry.

Daniel Doherty, executive chef at the Duck and Waffle, said: “One of our signatures is a foie gras crème brûlée with butter roasted lobster, and sells like hot cakes. I love the taste and texture of foie gras, the richness is like nothing else.

“Geese and ducks don't need to be force fed to make foie gras. They are naturally greedy and will often have a fatty liver. I most certainly do not condone the force feeing and cruelty some producers use. “The percentage of foie gras production is a drop in the ocean compared to the awful production of chickens amongst many other things. The bigger problem of animal welfare remains, foie gras or no foie gras.”

dan doherty

Daniel Doherty, executive chef at

Duck and Waffle

Princesse d’Isenbourg et Cie was established in 1985 and is a supplier of fine foods including caviar and foie gras. Company director Pari Moore said: “When looking for suppliers we make sure the birds are organically fed, that the supplier is a member of the Committee Renaissance, have an animal welfare programme and animals must have roamed freely on wide open spaces, ie. approx. 150 ducks per 2500 sq metres. “We conduct a visit at least once a year to make sure standards are maintained.”

He added: “A surge of activists has done their utmost deterring restaurants and retail outlets using Foie Gras but just take a look at Dutch Veal. These infant animals are deliberately being kept on lattice floors to force each and everyone to stand up, discoursing movement and thus ensuring meat is as light coloured as possible. Or look at stable conditions of sows, solely kept to breed. Ducks and geese enjoy a considerably more generous natural life given the aforementioned living conditions of certain other animals.”

Another popular foie gras supplier is Rougie, which was established in 1875 and is now in more than 150 companies, supplying to the UK for 25 years.

Ann De Moor, area sales manager for Rougie said: “We are very interested in how we take care of our animals, to maintain the highest possible quality that begins with the wellbeing of our birds, so the birds are not battery raised, 90% of their time they are out in the open air, the first three weeks while fragile they are inside then they live for about 5 months outside, so we do a lot for the comfort and wellbeing of our birds.

“It is a historical thing so it won’t change that much, foie gras already existed 5000 years ago in the times of the Egyptians, they used to eat it. “Internationally we are still growing, generally the demand is still quite high, even with the activists in some countries the demand is still quite high.”

Foie gras has always been and always will be a contentious issue. While there continues to be a demand suppliers will continue to import it and those continuing to use it will always face opposition. So what’s the solution? A worldwide ban on the unethical production techniques with only naturally fattened goose and duck liver being used? Or a complete ban, which will of course have knock on effects for those who make a living from it – from the producers to the suppliers to the chefs who put it on their menu. It seems at the moment there is no winner when it comes to foie gras.

By Samantha Wright

*Join the debate on Twitter and Facebook or comment below. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th February 2018

Should foie gras be on the menu?