Foie gras

From Academic Kids

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Pt de foie gras served picnic-style with Sauternes and bread.
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An entire foie gras (partly prepared for a terrine).

Foie gras [fw gr] (French for "fat liver") is the liver of a duck or goose that has been overfed. Along with truffles, foie gras is considered one of the greatest delicacies in the world of French cuisine. It is very rich and buttery, with a delicate flavor unlike regular duck or goose liver.

Many people, including organizations lobbying for animal rights, regard the production method as cruel.


History and main producers

As far back as 2500BC, the Egyptians sought the fattened livers of migratory birds as a delicacy. They soon learned that many birds could be over fed and began the practice of overfeeding captive geese. Pliny credits the Roman gastronome Apicius, whose name is associated with the sole surviving Roman cookbook, with feeding figs to geese to enlarge their livers. The idea may have been derived from Hellenistic Alexandria: much of Roman luxury cuisine owes its inspirations to the Greeks. Roman culture would have spread the technique to Gaul.

France is now the "home" of foie gras. 80% of the world production (16370 tonnes in 2003, 96% in duck and the rest in goose), and 98% of the transformation, occur in France [1] (,1-0@2-3228,36-391307,0.html). 30,000 people are involved in the industry with 90% residing in the Prigord (Dordogne) and Midi-Pyrnes rgions in the southwest, as well as in the east (Alsace). The European Union recognizes the foie gras produced according to traditional farming methods (label rouge) in southwestern France with a geographical indication of provenance.

Production methods

Birds do not chew their food and have no gag reflex, thus they have no reaction to being fed large amounts of whole foods. Ducks and geese are omnivorous, and like many birds, have very elastic throats which expands and allows them to store whole food in the esophagus while awaiting digestion in the stomach. In the wild this dilation allows them to swallow large items, such as a whole fish, for a long digestive process. A wild duck may double its weight in the fall, storing fat throughout much of its body and especially on the liver. This weight gain is entirely reversible both in the wild and with farmed fowl used in foie gras production.

The geese or ducks used in foie gras production are initially free range, feeding on grasses that toughen the esophagus. While still free roaming they are gradually introduced to a high starch diet that by itself leads to about half of the enlarged livers size. The next feeding phase, which the french call finition d'engraissement, or "completing the fattening process", involves careful stuffing of feed into the birds throat. This exploits a natural process through which geese and ducks store fat in their livers in preparation for winter migration. The feed, usually corn, causes large amounts of fat to deposit in the liver producing the buttery consistency. Birds often come to undergo this feeding process willingly.

Geese used in foie gras production are generally Moullard geese. Ducks used are a sterile hybrid. A male of the species cairina moschata is crossed with a female domestic duck, often anas platyrhynchos.


Foie gras, in France, exists in some different legally-defined presentations, from the high-end to the low-end:

  • foie gras entier (entire foie gras), made of one or two whole liver lobes; it can be cooked (cuit), semi-cooked (mi-cuit), or fresh (frais);
  • foie gras, made of pieces of livers reassembled together;
  • bloc de foie gras, a fully-cooked, molded block made of 98% or more foie gras; if termed avec morceaux ("with pieces"), it must contain at least 50% of pieces of foie gras for goose, and 30% for duck.

In addition, there exist pt de foie gras, mousse de foie gras (both must be made with 50% or more of foie gras), parfait de foie gras (75% or more foie gras) and other preparations (no legal obligation).

Fully cooked preparations are generally sold in metallic or glass cans for long-term conservation. Whole fresh foie gras is not usually available, except in some producers' markets in the producing regions. Frozen whole foie gras are sometimes sold in French supermarkets.

French foie gras preparation is generally over low heat (terrine) as the traditional goose foie gras suffers from too much fat melt. The American palate, used to the more accessible duck foie gras, has more recipes and plate preparations that serve foie gras hot. The recent (in french culinary tradition) introduction of duck foie gras has resulted in some recipes crossing back from America to France. In other parts of the world foie gras is served in exotic dishes such as foie gras sushi or alongside Ethiopian steak tartare.

Foie gras may be flavored with truffles or liquors such as armagnac. It is commonly served accompanied by crusty bread or toast. It is often served with a dessert wine such as Sauternes as the rich sweet flavours go well together, a classic example of wine and food matching. Some people, on the other hand, prefer it with a dry white wine, such as those from Alsace. Accompaniments may include onion jam.


Foie gras is a luxury dish. Many in France only consume foie gras on special occasions, such as Christmas or New Year's Day eve rveillon dinners, though the recent increased availability of foie gras has made it a less exceptional dish. In some areas of France foie gras is a year round pleasure.

Duck foie gras is the cheaper and, since a change of production methods in the 1950s, by far the most common kind. The taste of duck foie gras is often referred to as musky with a subtle bitterness. Goose foie gras is noted for being less gamey and smoother.


A lot of people contend the method of feeding the geese and ducks to be forced and cruel. They use the term gavage, a french term for stuffed feeding (and a medical term for feeding those who can't feed themselves). After political pressure from organizations lobbying for animal rights, certain jurisdictions have banned gavage.

The crux of the cruelty issue lies in two distinct questions. First, does foie gras production cause the animals to feel pain and suffering? Secondly, for an animal destined for the dinner table, is this suffering unacceptably cruel?

Most foie gras producers do not consider their methods cruel, insisting that it is a natural process exploiting the animals evolved features. Producers state that wild ducks and geese naturally ingest large amounts of whole food and gain weight before migration. Foie gras producers also state that geese and ducks do not have a gag reflex, and therefore do not find force feeding uncomfortable. Michael Ginor, owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras and author of Foie Gras... A Passion, claims his birds come to him and says this is important because "a stressed or hurt bird won't eat and digest well or produce a foie gras."

Late in 2003, a French coalition of animal rights groups published the Proclamation for the Abolition of the Gavage (, claiming that the practice of forced feeding is already illegal based on existing animal protection laws in France and the European Union. However, these laws leave much for interpretation. The Council of the European Union issued Council Directive 98/58/EC (!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=en&numdoc=31998L0058&model=guichett) on 20 July 1998 concerning the protection of farm animals. It stipulates that animal "owners or keepers take all reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of animals under their care and to ensure that those animals are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury."

The Report of the EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare on Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese (, Adopted 16 December 1998 is an 89-page review of studies from several producing countries. It notes that animal death rates increase by a factor of ten to twenty during the two-week forced feeding period. Also, while the consequences of force feeding in birds are reversible, the "level of steatosis should be considered pathological."

Some of the physiological claims by producers are contradicted by the EU report. In response to the gag reflex claim, the report states, "The oropharyngeal area is particularly sensitive and is physiologically adapted to perform a gag reflex in order to prevent fluids entering the trachea. Force feeding will have to overcome this reflex and hence the birds may initially find this distressing and injury may result."

Industry groups including CIFOG, and researchers at INRA affirm that forced feeding is not a cruel procedure and even that animals appreciate this treatment. The EU committee carried out several tests designed to detect pain or distressed by looking at blood hormones and all of them were inconclusive or without any measurable difference to similarly raised animals. The committee did not observe any signs that animals appreciated being force fed, and observed that ducks attempted to move away when their feeder entered the room. However, veterinarians who serve at foie gras farms have observed this behavior.

The EU report notes that continued force feeding leads to early death of the animal. It also recognizes that producers do not put their birds livers into a pathological state. The timing of liver fattening is carefully controlled so the animal is slaughtered before it becomes a health hazard. An animal that stops the forced feeding process returns to its normal weight. Producers, and the EU report, also the answer the criticism of increased mortality by noting that the overall mortality rate of ducks and geese in foie gras production is much less than that of farm raised chickens and turkeys.

Some EU foie gras producers seek protection under a "cultural exception" clause similar to the protection of bullfighting in the south.

Foie gras is illegal in several locations, and legislation is pending in others. In August, 2003, the Supreme Court of Israel declared foie gras production to be animal cruelty, and made production illegal beginning in March, 2005. On September 29, 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that will ban the production or sale of foie gras from force fed birds in the state by 2012. The law would allow foie gras produced by methods that are not considered animal cruelty. Similar legislation is pending in New York. California and New York are currently the only US states with foie gras industries.

Force feeding is prohibited in:

External links


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