Duck Fat or Live and Let Liver

Is France’s gastronomically feted foie gras justly one of the world’s 10 great table flavours, alongside caviar and truffles, or is it an animal rights abomination?

Sales are booming despite animal rights opponents

Do ordinary folk out for a meal at the weekend, really regard the world’s great gourmet chefs as a band of barbaric bird abusers?

This certainly is how their detractors would have us view any restaurant with foie gras on the menu. Here in France of course that means everything from a top Michelin-starred gourmet temple to the local 15-euro-menu village eatery.

According to Kirk Leech, a former senior project manager with Understanding Animal Research, the culinary culture warriors currently on the march against fatted goose liver regard the force-feeding used to produce foie gras as “a barbaric form of animal cruelty” and want to stop it by “fair means or foul”.

They are, he says, currently winning the consumer argument, but possibly not quite as extensively as they hope and only outside of France. Indeed a recent report from the foie gras producers association (October 2010) reflects an industry in rude health: “Foie gras sales in France rose 19% through to end Q3 2010, to 1 869 tonnes, while industry exports earned more than €12 million in H1 2010. The sector generates some 70% of sales over the Christmas season. Foie gras exports from January to June 2010, were up 17% for unprocessed livers and 11% for the processed product. In 2009, foie gras sales increased 7.5% in volume and 4.5% in value — some 8 801 tonnes — against 2008″, the industry reported.

The stop the gavage campaign is led by eco-warriors aligned with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) whose activities in France are said to be growing although as yet still at a level of the artful skirmisher. French foie gras producers will presumably only have to start worrying when a full blown war footing is reached as seems to be the case in the UK and north America. There restaurateurs, gourmet food stores and consumers are being cowered and covered in guilt for coveting the fatted goose.

Kirk Leech, in a column here goes on to cite extremist eco-warriors as yet another example of worrying illiberalism sweeping Europe.

“What’s at stake here is the individual’s right to choose what to sell and what to eat. In the end, as it should, the decision to sell or consume (foie gras), must come down to personal taste, and not harassment as we pop out to the shops”.

His remarks of course, are just as applicable to the intolerable erosion of hard-won Western values and freedoms by culturally-hijacked governments around Europe, demonstrated whenever some-one attempts to stand up for non-conforming Danish cartoonists or Dutch filmmakers. (See footnote below)

The most common justification for force feeding the birds whose livers are used for foie gras is this one from Tarn-Web: “The ancient Egyptians were the first to eat the tasty meat of geese that visited the banks of the Nile during the winter months. They notice that the livers’ of these geese were particularly delicious. The liver’s flavour came from the fat reserves that the geese stored in preparation for their return flight in the spring. Wild geese thus initially overfeed themselves!”

Rest assured eco-warriors have heaps of counter arguments for that canard. As in this quote, and that is just for starters: “More than 30 million birds are force-fed each year in France. Most are kept in battery cages so small that they can barely move. Farmers drive a metal tube down the throat into the stomach. Their livers become huge. They struggle to breathe… The foie gras is just the diseased liver of the suffering bird.”

The Stop Gavage campaigners base their campaign on this EU directive
“14. Animals must be fed a wholesome diet which is appropriate to their age and species and which is fed to them in sufficient quantity to maintain them in good health and satisfy their nutritional needs. No animal shall be provided with food or liquid in a manner, nor shall such food or liquid contain any substance, which may cause unnecessary suffering or injury.”

Stop Gavage claim force feeding will soon be outlawed across Europe and nod to this 1998 Scientific Report of the European Commission

The campaigners allege: “the birds suffer from diarrhoea and exhaustion. Too weak or injured, more than a million die each year during gavage. Force-feeding is a violation of regulations and the most basic principles of animal welfare. Force-feeding is prohibited on grounds of cruelty in most countries of the European Union , and recently also has been banned in Israel and the state of California.” The campaign, which is an offshoot of the French vegetarian lobby, directs supporters to similar agitation in French export markets: No to Foie Gras, Stop Force Feeding and Gourmet Cruelty

The stop force feeding campaign in France has a long page of argumentation here which sets out to rebut the arguments used by producer associations to justify the industry: Essentially the campaigners maintain that there is scientific evidence that contradicts assertions that force feeding is not damaging to the birds, that the 2-4% mortality figures reportedly caused by forced feeding are not an accurate reflection and that it is not correct to claim that a bird’s liver returns to its normal size if force feeding stops.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2010, when most foie gras is sold, campaigners staged protests in various towns and cities around the country.

Protesters outside one of France’s largest retailers of foie gras, ahead of the usual Christmas stampede for the dish.

The campaign against the gavage is run by a French vegetarian lobby group

L’abolition de la viande, c’est pas la mort !

In defence of foie gras here is a long, detailed and interesting view on the Serious Eats website where the writer, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, one of the site’s food editors, appears to have taken considerable time and effort to answer the eco-warriors and their cohorts who would impose on the free-will of others.

France’s foie gras industry — processing some 30 million birds a year — is a significant agricultural business with the greatest number of producers based in the Lot (46), the Dordogne, and Tarn and officially subsidised under several government agricultural programmes.

To put the campaign into some perspective: the writer in his time has visited gavage sessions at farms around the Lot which welcome tourists and visitors and are happy to show them the production process. On one such farm near Rocamadour (46500), the writer saw no signs of the alleged “cruel and inhumane” farming practices. The geese lined up without fuss at feeding time, each was hand fed through a pipe inserted into the throat, the neck was stroked, the bird patted, the farmer’s wife had names for many of them, there was no struggling or agitation of the kind the writer has seen among animals lined up at abattoirs ahead of stunning (or in the case of halal and kosher, non stunning), and slaughter.

The food that people eat today is so processed, reshaped and packaged, as to divorce it from the stark reality of its provenance. The only people who truly see a relationship between the live animals around them and the food on their tables are the farmers and country-folk living in farming areas. For the rest, consumers seem to have forgotten that milk comes from a cow, not from the neon lit fridge display at Carrefour.

Here’s a bird (happily) force feeding itself!

Story: Ken Pottinger

Kirk Leech above notes that “the individual has a right to choose what to sell and what to eat”, a plea that ought to resonate with anyone who has watched the erosion of just such rights across the EU over the past 30 years. With some notable exceptions European governments would seem to prefer the easy route of equivocation rather than confrontation with thrusting demands of recent arrivals for whom centuries of struggle underlying European enlightenment, are a battleground rather than a banner. As a result when the indigenes now rebel over the callow cave-in by their ruling elites, they are attacked as “racist” or “Islamaphobic”. Daniel Pipes, controversial son of Harvard historian Richard Pipes and founder and director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based research institute, repeatedly urges concerned citizens to distinguish between Islam the religion, and “the worldwide threat of Islamism”. Pipes has long expressed concern about what he refers to as the danger of “radical” or “militant Islam”. His detractors however,and they are many and vociferous, insist he is beyond the pale, a man with a “long record of xenophobic, racist and sexist work” to his name. Such a dismissal however tends to obscure the important distinction Pipes frequently makes: “It’s a mistake to blame Islam, a religion 14 centuries old, for the evil that should be ascribed to militant Islam, a totalitarian ideology less than a century old. Militant Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution.” Militant Islam is what Pipes has taken to calling Islamism)


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