It is December 8th in Deux-Sevres, the temperature is 7 degrees
in the warehouse, which is only lit by a few neon strip lights.
It is 6 p.m. and time for evening force-feeding, the previous
session having taken place at 6 a.m. Out of the 560 ducks in the
room, all in cramped plastic boxes to prevent any movement, half
of the ducks are on their 27th force-feeding session, their last.
Most of them are gasping with their bills wide open. Their enormous
liver is squashing their lungs, especially the geese, who do not
Some of the ducks don’t even have the strength to lift their
heads. This morning three were found dead. Their corpses join
others in a corner, less than a metre from the living ducks. This
evening the breeder finds them all alive, which seems to come
as a happy surprise to her. She checks over the crop so as not
to “overdo” it on the last day before slaughter. A
duck that is near death can still “give its liver,”
but those who “cannot stand the shock” are a financial
A never-ending spiral
However, the next morning two more ducks have died, even before
their final 500m journey to the slaughtering room. The breeder
recognises that although there may only be a single loss this
time, there could be over 20 deaths the next time round. The amounts
of feed must be respected, although she already knows this very
well, since she has been force-feeding for 15 years. Her gestures
are self-assured and measured as she brings the head of the frightened
web-footed bird from the plastic basket to open its bill. She
introduces the long tube of the funnel, deforming the neck and
even the oesophagus of the bird as she does so. She pushes on
a lever, which starts the motor powering the endless spiral in
the middle of the funnel and the large grains of corn lightly
cooked in hot water are pushed downwards.
Almost all of the ducks fight energetically, but quite uselessly
in their narrow plastic container during this period. Almost all
of them shake their heads vigorously afterwards, which even enables
one of them to scatter about 10 grains of corn on to the ground,
which is already strewn with other grains soaked in one or two
millimetres of dirty water and sometimes in a sea of droppings
– “The trough has to be full.” All of the ducks
have something to drink, but none of them do so after the force-feeding.
Some of them can still raise their heads, but most lie prostrate.
In the next row a duck slaps a neighbouring fellow sufferer hard
with its bill (“that is why they are partly ebeaked”),
but the ducks nearby have not yet received their twice-daily ration.
They are all very dirty, unable to clean the rear part of their
bodies, which are systematically covered in spatters of droppings.
With the exception of two rows along the walls, the ducks are
arranged back to back and dirty each other in defecating, even
though there is a sort of channel below to collect the largest
droppings. All of that dirt will disappear in the last “bath”,
in boiling water after their throats have been slit and consumers
will obviously never see it. While waiting, in their plastic cells,
it is impossible for the ducks to move or even to reach their
uropygian gland, located at the base of the rump. They would otherwise
do so regularly to cover themselves with this sebum, which helps
to keep their plumage waterproof.
The next morning the farmers, their family (children included)
and staff are at the centre very early. The plastic cages are
taken down from their frames, all spattered with droppings, and
piled into a lorry headed towards a slaughtering centre where
foie gras and derivative products are also prepared, located just
a few metres away.
The ducks arrive in a white-tiled room. There the farmer takes
them out one by one and brings them to a wall to which an electro-narcosis
stunning system is attached. She pushes their head inside and
then the current is switched on. This is the officially recommended
method, which is obligatory because it is considered “humane,”
since it prevents the ducks from having their throats slit while
fully conscious, as in traditional slaughtering.
Each duck fights under the influence of the current. Then the
farmer pulls its head out and pushes it down into a home-made
system consisting of three signalling cones, which are exceeded
by the hanging head of the animal, confirming that it conforms
with standards. The farmer then pushes her knife into the open
bill of the duck and sections the carotids, which are under the
tongue, saying that this is just as easy as slitting the throat
“Every man to his own technique!” The blood then flows
fast into one of three buckets under the machine.
The next day, after the slaughter, the dissection and preparation
of the various parts of the animal (the bony parts, the legs/thighs,
breasts and manchons) takes place. One of the corpses exiting
the cold room has a bloodshot wing– almost a haematoma from
one end to the other – and the boss says that this wing
has to be “downgraded” because it cannot be sold.
“You saw how they are kept in very narrow plastic boxes.
The wing must have got twisted and remained stuck that way,”
Poland says “No”
The Polish Parliament passed a law on the protection of animals
in 1998, which came into force in 1999. This text prohibits the
slaughter and fattening of ducks and geese for the production
of foie gras.