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Animal Rights Group Hopes Graphic Footage Will End France's Foie Gras Love Affair

The videos, meant to highlight controversial aspects of foie gras production, show ducklings still twitching after being processed through a grinder and a duck writhing in agony after having its neck broken.
Captura de pantalla vía L214

A French animal rights group has released two shocking videos showing the mistreatment of animals inside a foie gras factory. The gruesome footage, which was secretly filmed at hatcheries in the northwest and southwest of France, shows ducklings being crushed alive and a duck agonizing on the ground with a twisted neck.

L214, the animal welfare group that published the graphic images on its website, is hoping that the videos will be a wake-up call for lovers of foie gras — a controversial French delicacy made from the enlarged and fattened livers of force-fed ducks and geese.


"We want to show consumers that they are being lied to, that people would have them believe they are purchasing animals that were happy and raised in free range conditions," said Brigitte Gothière, who works for L214, the animal rights group that published the graphic videos online.

"People aren't complete bastards, they don't want to see animals being mistreated," she added. "People need to know what is going on in the poultry farms so that they see the link between the cruel treatment [of animals] and the piece of meat that is sitting on their plate."

France produces about 75 percent of the world's foie gras. According to statistics released by the French Ministry of Agriculture, the nation force-fed enough poultry in 2014 alone to supply 19,300 tons of the fatty delicacy to the world. The French also eat more foie gras than anyone else, putting away 18,600 tons of the stuff in 2014.

When quizzed about the videos, Marie-Pierre Pé, a member of France's Interprofessional Committee of Foie Gras, urged the public not to rush to any conclusion.

"We're talking about animal welfare groups — vegetarians," she said. "They're doing everything they can to make it look sensational, to scare everyone and to discourage people to eat meat."

Newly-hatched female ducklings crushed in grinder
One of the videos, which was shot in a hatchery in the northwest region of Pays-de-la-Loire, shows newly hatched chicks being sorted according to their sex. Moments after they have hatched, the female ducklings are tossed into a grinder and crushed to a pulp between two rotating rollers.


"They don't keep the females. These are the drakes [used] for foie gras," says an employee, her face blurred to protect her anonymity. "Ultimately, the female livers are too small. It's not advantageous for them."

As controversial as it may be, foie gras production is authorized and regulated by European legislation. According to foie gras standards set by the European Union, the liver must weigh a minimum of 250 grams in the case of ducks.

Related: This Horrific Video of Animal Cruelty Led to the Shutdown of a French Slaughterhouse

It is perfectly legal for breeders to kill unwanted female ducklings. A 1999 EU recommendation stipulates that "ducklings should be killed by using a mechanically operated apparatus… designed and operated in such a way as to ensure that all ducklings are killed immediately." And yet the video clearly shows several ducklings still showing signs of life after they emerge from the grinder.

The following video contains images that some viewers may find shocking.

According to Pé, the video is not representative of widespread foie gras production practices. Speaking to VICE News on Tuesday, Pé blamed the violations on the recent outbreak of avian flu that struck flocks in the southwest of France.

"Our sector stopped culling female ducklings ten years ago and we now export 90 percent of them," she said. Unwanted female ducklings, she explained, are often sold for meat to North African countries.


"But the bird flu is closing foreign markets to us, particularly for animals that are a day old," she went on. "Breeders are having to kill their livestock. From a professional perspective, it's traumatic. It seems to me it's a case of 'kick a man when he's down'."

When quizzed about the damning footage showing chicks coming out of the grinder still twitching, Pé described the images as "suspicious."

Botched culls
The second video was shot back in April on a duck farm in the southwest of France, which is by far the largest foie gras-producing region in the world. Most of the fatty liver production comes from mule ducks, an infertile hybrid cross between a Pekin duck and a Muscovy drake.

Ducks that can no longer lay eggs are typically dispatched using cervical dislocation — in other words, their necks are broken. Again, the practice is authorized by EU legislation if and only if it causes no "avoidable suffering" to the animal. And yet in the second video, a botched cull leaves a female duck writhing around in pain with an injured neck.

The following video contains images that some viewers may find shocking.

As well as denouncing the violations observed in hatcheries, animal activists hope the videos will put the French off their foie gras, which critics argue is an unethical culinary tradition.

After 40 days in the hatchery and 40 days living out in the open, male ducklings are caged and force-fed for 12 days — a practice known as "gavage."


Related: French Authorities Are Investigating an Illegal Horsemeat Trafficking Ring

"Twice a day, for 10 to 12 days, they inject gradually increasing quantities of food [into their gullet], often puréed corn, and sometimes up to one kilo per feeding," said Gothière. "They use a hydraulic or a pneumatic pump to do this. The idea is to fill the duck's crop," a pouch in the bird's gullet where food is stored for digestion.

The average duck will take on two additional kilos during this time — around 33 percent of their weight. They are then stunned and bled before having their livers removed.

No ban on the horizon
In 1998, the Council of the EU introduced a directive stating, "No animal shall be provided with food or liquid in a manner which may cause unnecessary suffering or injury." At the time, EU officials formed a permanent committee specifically tasked with looking into the production of foie gras. In 1999, the committee said that it was "aware of the [animal] welfare issues linked to certain practices employed in the production of foie gras," and that such practices were "not in line with the requirements of the Convention."

Despite these findings, foie gras was not taken off the menu.

"Until new scientific evidence on alternative methods and their welfare aspects is available", the committee concluded, "the production of foie gras is prohibited everywhere except for where it is currently practiced."

This means that foie gras production is only legal in five EU states: France, Belgium, Spain, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Poland banned gavage in 1999, and Italy followed suit in 2004.

Addressing EU lawmakers back in March, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said that the [EU] Commission had "no intention to ban" foie gras production.

Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @LucieAbrg