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Force-feeding: behind the scenes
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An investigator from One Voice went to a force-feeding centre. His account reveals what this kind of practice really involves.

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Gasping ducks

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 have diaphragms.

Death

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 loss.

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.

Prostrated

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.

Dirt

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.

Lorries

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.

Stunning

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.

Signalling cone

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.

Haematoma

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,” he explains.

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.


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