We were ‘over-the-moon’ when we found that Amazon had removed foie-gras from its online British store! Amazon is one of – if not the – largest online retailer on the planet. Throughout 2013, Viva! and our supporters bombarded the company with messages asking them to stop selling ‘torture in a tin.’
We sent a 10,000 signature petition to Amazon’s UK managing director, along with footage that showed the extraordinary cruelty involved in foie-gras production. Then, of course, there were all your emails and postcards. And it worked! Thanks to you we banished over 100 foie-gras products from the Amazon shop. What a victory!
Foie-gras most foul
The Daily Mail ran a huge article on our victory, including several shocking pictures in full colour. “A very un-British cruelty” is how I described it to them (see page 26) and a very un-British cruelty it is, too.
Foie-gras – forcing so much food down the throats of ducks and geese that their livers expand up to 10 times their natural size – would not be tolerated in Britain. Sadly, trade rules insist that it can still be imported. A French company that sends as much as 50 per cent of its production to the UK is Ernest Soulard. One British chef who eagerly buys its foie-gras is Gordon Ramsay, and he repeats their sales hype almost verbatim – that the company is an “industry leader in terms of animal welfare.”
This summer, Viva! put the claim to the test and undertook an audacious investigation alongside French colleagues. We exposed the awful reality of Ernest Soulard’s and Gordon Ramsay’s sham boast of good animal welfare. We visited six farms belonging to the Soulard company and what we found sickened us.
The camera we hid in one shed recorded the twice-daily horror that is gavage (force feeding). A worker moved along the seemingly endless rows of cages, thrusting a meta tube down each duck’s throat and mechanically pumping vast quantities of corn into their stomachs.
The pathetic little creatures tried to retract their necks and hide their heads to avoid the inevitable but there was nowhere for them to go. One duck vomited up copious amounts of the yellow corn mush that had been forced into him. Ducks would naturally be pristine clean on lakes and rivers, spending much of their time preening. Here, that vital process is denied them and everywhere we looked, ducks were covered in grime and caked with feed and vomit. Some had eyes so caked as to be almost blind. At the bottom of some cages lay motionless feathered corpses – some of the million casualties who die every year from being force fed.
Force feeding is mostly facilitated by tiny single cages that hold the ducks captive – unable to stretch their wings or turn around. By 2015, France is supposed to have moved to ‘colony’ cages, housing five or six birds together. Supposedly a welfare improvement, it is nothing of the kind and we filmed ducks trampled by their cage mates and some with bloody wounds, probably inflicted by others driven to despair by their confinement and twice- daily torment.
In these larger cages, ducks are pinned to the floor by a metal arm which descends every feeding time and which must exacerbate any injury as well as causing huge stress to these already beleaguered animals. Bloody injuries were also apparent in other, single- caged birds, and seemingly ignored by workers. These sociable animals took comfort wherever they could. One small duck managed to stretch his neck and hide his head beneath the wing of the duck next to him. But he and all the others would be crated up and sent to slaughter at about three months old. If what we filmed at Ernest Soulard is the best welfare we would hate to see the worst.
Apologists for foie-gras make much of the early days of a duck’s life. An email from one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants gushes about ‘spacious barns and access to grass fields and open air’. Even if true, it doesn’t even begin to mitigate against the extreme torture they’re subject to for the last 13 days of their life.
Only male ducks are force-fed whilst new-born females are killed because their livers don’t expand quickly enough to be profitable. Geese are also used but nearly 98 per cent of the 38 million foie-gras birds killed every year in France are ducks.
Gordon Ramsay and his ilk help to popularise foie-gras, ignore the cruelty it represents whilst propping up an industry that should shame humankind. Viva! has been successfully whittling away at foie-gras consumption in Britain and we intend to keep going until we have a foie-gras free Britain. With your help we’ll achieve it.