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The artful British government whose bargaining dexterity brought us Brexit is looking into banning imports of foie gras.
They must thank their lucky stars that with the focus on Covid-19 they do not have to appraise the disastrous state of British education and housing, the collapsing National Health Service, or the fact that there are now more food banks in the UK than there are McDonalds outlets.
When a rare chink in their packed crisis schedule made itself available last week for a dramatic call-to-arms, it was a relief to see them use it to consider the future of foie gras.
An elitist dish if ever there was one since the time of the ancient Egyptians, the epicure Apicius (late-4th or early 5th-century author of the only surviving Roman cookbook) is credited by Pliny the Elder with the practice of feeding figs to geese to enlarge their livers.
These days, it is not figs but corn the geese are fattened on. But whatever geese are fed, foie gras may soon become unavailable.
Before you decide I am rising in protest, retaining or banning access to foie gras is not the case I want to make. You can decide for yourselves. I would like to propose a broader one - for coming to a decision on All Issues, in Any Category, on the basis of facts and for issues to be prioritised in order of importance.
Facts: Gavage is the word for feeding a goose through a funnel inserted in the throat. Like many birds, a goose’s throat can stretch, allowing it in the wild to swallow a large fish and store it in the esophagus before digesting it in the stomach; Before geese migrate, they deliberately gorge themselves, increasing their livers, to sustain themselves in their thousands of miles of flight; The ‘European Union's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare on Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese’ found no "conclusive" scientific evidence on the averse physical nature of force feeding a caged goose. Conversely, issues of stress and cruelty related to the “management and housing” of geese packed tightly into pens far too small. Cruelty and stress do not arise, says the report, with un-penned geese which they observed to enter feeding areas voluntarily for hand feeding.
There is certainly a powerful case to make against the factory farming of foie gras.
But drive across the Dordogne in south-west France, the département where the raising of ducks and geese is central to its economy, and in the fields of artisan not factory enterprises you can see free-moving flocks of geese waddling as fast as they are able towards the farmer clutching stool, bucket of maize and funnel, to be fed.
Order of importance: Each year, the UK imports just over 200 tonnes of foie gras. Each week, the UK slaughters 20 million chickens. 86% have been processed on one of the UK’s 1,534 industrial-sized farms.
Once themselves a "special treat," chickens are now eaten in vast quantities because squalid production practices have rendered them astoundingly cheap.
After China, the world’s greatest consumer of chicken is the US. In both nations, chickens are raised in industrial poultry farms where birds are squashed together so tightly they cannot lie down (in their own excrement). Unable to move, they chew each others' feathers off (causing some producers to chop off their beaks). Without exercise, their breasts expand in exaggerated proportion to the rest of their bodies. Please only watch this report on how industrially-farmed chickens reach your plate if you have a strong stomach.
In the US in 2018 alone, 9 billion broiler chickens were produced. Per person, more than 93.5 pounds of chicken were eaten.
By contrast, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the largest US producer of foie gras, has sold the livers of around 10 million fowl, primarily for restaurant not domestic use - in the last 30 years.
The breast is America’s most popular chicken part by far. So industrial chicken producers like Perdue, which has taken over 90% of independent US chicken farms, and rival Tyson dispatch the less saleable thighs and wings down to Mexico, to devastating effect on that nation’s domestic poultry farmers.
With an eye on post-Brexit opportunities, Tyson, a $42.4 billion turnover enterprise, invaded the UK in 2020 to pursue what it called “aggressive aspirations” for the European meat market. Its plant in Wrexham in north-east Wales has been a hotspot for food manufacturing coronavirus outbreaks, as have Tyson factories in the US. John Casey, local manager of the Tyson facility in Waterloo, Iowa, is alleged to have "explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of Covid-19" in employees.
Processed fowl fare no better. Where is the US and the UK legislature's response to the living conditions of industrial chickens? Why are those so outraged about goose livers not orchestrating an equally effective response to the far greater and more widespread cruelty to chickens?
When even factory-farmed ducks and geese live in cages up to four times the size of those given to chickens, why are we not focusing our wrath against the mass-producers of cheap chickens before we attack niche-market foie gras?
In the US, foie gras has been a target of legislators for a decade. When Democrat John Burton sat in the California State Senate, he pushed to ban the production, sale and distribution of foie gras from 2012. A veto on its sale and distribution in Chicago followed, then legislation preventing the force-feeding of ducks and geese for foie gras production in New Jersey, with legal complaints lodged against top Hudson Valley producers. In 1919, New York mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill to ban foie gras sales in New York.
At the time of Burton’s bill, the senator told The San Francisco Chronicle: "I've eaten foie gras. It ain't my cup of tea." How improved would be the lot of the 19 million tonnes of industrially-farmed US chickens if they weren't his cup of tea either? Or the 20 million tonnes of chickens consumed annually in China? Or the 12 million tonnes in Brazil?
The total 2020 figure for European consumption of foie gras is 22,586 tonnes, including Britain’s 219 tonnes. Go ban it, Boris. World-beating political action.
No animals are harmed in the making of this pâté, eaten on toast like foie gras.
70g/¾ cup walnuts
400g/14oz can kidney beans, drained
1 clove garlic, peeled
6-8 fresh coriander/cilantro sprigs
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Bung the whole lot into a blender or processor and blitz to a paste. Serve with toasted sourdough.
Excellent article thank you so much
Anita! Where are you???xx