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Welfare Implications of Foie Gras Production

1 December 2011, at 12:00am

The welfare implications of foie gras (fat liver) production in ducks were outlined by American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2007 and have been re-issued by FAO on its web site, Gateway to Farm Animal Welfare.

It is presumed that under ideal conditions a force-fed duck will not experience injury or liver necrosis, will retain the ability to stand and move around, and can be transported to slaughter without injury.

In the absence of empirical studies, the welfare of this ideal animal is difficult to judge, as is the prevalence of more severe compromises to welfare.

The known potential risks associated with foie gras production, are:

  • Potential for injury due to multiple insertions of a long feeding tube, with possibility of secondary infection
  • Distress from restraint and manipulations associated with force feeding
  • Compromised health and welfare resulting from obesity, including the potential for impaired locomotion and lethargy, and
  • Creation of a vulnerable animal more likely to suffer from otherwise tolerable conditions such as heat and transport.

Some of these risks can be mitigated by effective management. There is evidence of industry efforts to use modern feeding equipment, improve feed tube design and provide ducks with a familiar handler. Other refinements might include immediate identification and removal of injured animals and moderation of feeding levels to strike a balance between product yield and animal welfare.

The few empirical studies that have been conducted would benefit from validation of method, more robust use of controls, and independent replication.

There is a clear and pressing need for research that focuses on the condition of ducks during fattening, including the actual incidence and severity of animal welfare risks on the farm. This would allow deficits to be accurately identified and ameliorated. Until this occurs, estimates of the welfare condition of ducks used to produce foie gras will be approximate, based upon the severity of the manipulations (force feeding) and resultant deviations from normal health (marked obesity).

December 2011