To produce “foie gras” (the French term means “fatty liver”), workers ram metal pipes down the throats of male ducks twice each day, pumping up to 2.2 pounds of grain and fat into their stomachs, or geese three times a day, up to 4 pounds daily, in a process known as “gavage.” The force-feeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to up to 10 times their normal size. Many birds have difficulty standing because their engorged livers distend their abdomens, and they may tear out their own feathers and attack each other out of stress.
The birds are kept in tiny cages or crowded sheds. Unable to bathe or groom themselves, they become coated with excrement mixed with the oils that would normally protect their feathers from water. One Newsweek reporter who visited a foie gras factory farm described the ducks as “listless” and “often lame from foot infection due to standing on metal grilles during the gavage.” Other common health problems include damage to the esophagus, fungal infections, diarrhea, impaired liver function, heat stress, lesions, and fractures of the sternum. Some ducks die of aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when grain is forced into the ducks’ lungs or when birds choke on their own vomit. In one study, birds force-fed for foie gras had a mortality rate up to 20 times that of a control group of birds who were not force-fed.
Since foie gras is made from the livers of only male ducks, all female ducklings—40 million of them each year in France alone—are useless to the industry and are therefore simply tossed into grinders, live, so that their bodies can be processed into fertilizer or cat food.