Birds used in the food industry are often the victims of horrific abuse and at Animals’ Angels we are working diligently to create the changes these animals need and deserve.
Foie gras (French for "fat liver") is the liver of a duck or a goose that has been specially fattened by forced feeding. Foie gras is one of the most popular delicacies in France. The technique of gavage (forced-feeding) dates as far back as 2500 BC, when the ancient Egyptians began keeping birds for food and deliberately fattened the birds through force-feeding.
Today, France is by far the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, though it is produced and consumed worldwide, particularly in the United States, Canada, and China.
Several countries in Europe have banned the production and sale of the fatty duck liver including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy and Poland. Chicago followed suit and in 2012, the sale and production of foie gras was illegal in the state of California.
How is foie gras produced?
Upon hatching, the ducks are separated into males and females. The females are killed right away, because the structure of their liver makes them unsuitable for the forced feeding process. The males are cruelly debeaked in order to avoid too many losses due to fighting. Like turkeys and chickens, the young ducks are raised in filthy, dark barns with no windows until they are twelve weeks old. The overcrowded environment causes stress and aggression.
After that, the birds are kept separate in tiny wired cages. For four weeks, up to two pounds of food is shoveled through a metal tube down the duck's throat in one sitting. They are fed huge amounts of grain three times a day, resulting in their livers swelling to up to 10 times their normal size. A duck's liver naturally weighs around 50 grams. However, to qualify as foie gras, the industry's own regulations require ducks' livers to weigh an absolute minimum of 300 grams.
The vast amounts of feed pumped down the ducks' throats causes enormous internal pressure, and the pipe sometimes punctures the esophagus, causing many to die from choking on the blood that fills their lungs. Some birds literally burst or choke to death on their own vomit. Other ducks die a slow, painful, and premature death by suffocation from inhalation of regurgitated feed. These poor animals must experience unspeakable pain and suffering. The results of necropsies on dead birds that have been force-fed reveal ruptured livers, throat damage, and food spilling from the dead animals' throats and out of their nostrils.
Worldwide every year over 50 billion chickens are slaughtered. In the U.S. alone 10 billion young chickens, only 45 days old, are killed. Their living conditions are often horrendous. Kept in dark, filthy sheds with as many as 20,000 other birds, the ammonia produced by so many birds causes painful eye diseases. The birds have difficulty even moving: since they are genetically manipulated, these young birds grow to enormous size with overgrown breasts and thighs.
Their egg-laying relatives fair no better. There are over 300 million egg-laying hens caged each year in the U.S. They are painfully debeaked and live in a wire cage (“battery cage”) for up to 2 years with 7 to 9 other suffering hens. The shed may hold up to 80,000 other tortured birds, which never see one ray of daylight in their entire lives.
Battery cages are rows and rows of wired cages joined together, sometimes with several levels, one on top of the other.
The hens have no room to flap and stretch, no means to bathe in dust, no place to perch and no nest to lay an egg in. Overcrowding also means that the hens are unable to exercise, a fact that – combined with the constant demand for calcium required for egg production – results in weak, brittle bones and bone fragility.
So how does these poor creatures short life end? Tossed into tiny plastic crates and literally thrown into the transport truck, they travel up to 12 hours without food, water and with no protection from the weather. They are paralyzed with fear, suffering from feather loss, broken bones, oozing wounds and other injuries.
At the slaughterhouse the birds are hung upside down on a rack. They move to a killing knife and suffer severe electric shocks (to make their feathers come out easier) being dragged through an electrified water bath. Several of them are still alive after they pass through the killing knife and into a scald tank.
Turkeys share a similar fate to their brethren the chicken. They are kept in overcrowded conditions inside large, windowless broiler sheds that contain up to 10.000 birds. Stocking density is high and as the birds approach slaughter age they become tightly packed. This encourages pecking and cannibalism.
Because of that, turkeys have their beaks amputated when they are just five days old. Debeaking involves slicing off about one-third of the beak with a hot blade. The industry does this without any sort of anesthesia.
Similar to the broiler and roaster chickens, turkeys are bred to grow quite large quickly. This causes them to suffer a variety of aliments including, lameness, heart and lung problems. Especially males are unable to support their own weight. At an age as young as 12 weeks the turkeys are transported to slaughter. Like with chickens, they are hung by their feet upside down on a movable belt.
Turkeys can weigh anything between 8 to 40 lbs at slaughter and the pain caused to heavy birds while hanging upside down is tremendous. This pain is worsened by the fact that many of the birds and especially the larger ones suffer from diseased hip joints. We wonder what Benjamin Franklin would say about the treatment of the animal he proposed to be America’s symbol?
Read our 2016 report on exotic auctions, where all types of birds are often found for sale in deplorable conditions, along with other exotic and rare animals.
You can learn more about the treatment of chickens and other poultry birds through our ongoing investigations here.