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Questions about the association ​

Why fight against foie gras in Switzerland? Isn't it already banned?

Foie gras is not banned for sale, but it is banned for production because force-feeding is prohibited. Force-feeding has been banned in Switzerland since 1978, with the implementation of the LPA (Animal Protection Act) and is explicitly illegal according to the OPAn (the Implementing Ordinance of 2008). Despite this, Switzerland imports around 300 tonnes of foie gras every year.

In short, Switzerland is doing the dirty work abroad, which is why we are fighting foie gras here.

How long has the association been operative ?

The association was founded in January 2017. Its mission is to ban force-feeding products in Switzerland. But the fight against foie gras is not new, it has been going on for at least forty years. 

How can I help the association?

The easiest way to help the association is to become a member. Membership is free and allows us to increase our influence with decision-makers. It is of course also very useful to make donations to the association. Our actions cannot be carried out without money. Being independent of all parties and other interest groups, the association receives no subsidies and lives solely on donations. And of course it is possible to become a volunteer within the association. We are always on the lookout for volunteers for a one-off or longer-term commitment. It is best to contact us directly.

Is the association based in the German-speaking part of Switzerland? In Ticino?

For the time being, the association has mainly developed in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. But we are working on expanding in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and in Ticino. The problem of foie gras differs according to language region, we must have a differentiated approach according to region.

Who are the people who are campaigning against foie gras? Do they have a personal interest in doing so?

As far as we know, those who are campaigning against foie gras are above all people who are outraged by the suffering inflicted on birds. Activists gain nothing personally in their commitment, except the satisfaction of working for a less violent world. The association does not yet have the means to hire employees. So there is no one who makes a living from this struggle. On the other hand, our opponents live very clearly from the foie gras business. It's something you have to keep in mind when you hear their arguments...

Isn't the fight against foie gras a move by the Swiss Germans to irritate the French-speaking part of Switzerland?

The cultural difference between the German-speaking and French-speaking parts of Switzerland explains the difference in consumption between the two linguistic regions. However, the activists are, for the time being at least, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, where this product is visible and consumed. Nevertheless, Martin Haab's motion, tabled at the parliamentary session in spring 2020, calling for a ban on foie gras, was made by a parliamentarian from Zürich.

Why was the name Stop Gavage Suisse chosen?

The question arose as to why the name Stop Foie Gras was chosen, as force-feeding is already banned in Switzerland. However, it is the practice of force-feeding that poses a problem in the production of foie gras. This is why, in order to focus on this practice, rather than on the product and the consumer, we opted for Stop Gavage Suisse. On the other hand, we have a good connection with the French association L214 whose campaign against force-feeding is precisely called Stop Gavage. It is also in order to give them a wink that we have chosen Stop Gavage Suisse.

Questions about foie gras

Can we make foie gras without force-feeding?

Yes. There are at least two alternatives, based on goose livers:

  • The foie gras of Eduardo Sousa, a Spanish producer whose geese feed freely in his organic farm. It should be noted that this farmer was awarded the prize for the best foie gras in 2006 at the International Food Show in Paris, ahead of foie gras obtained by force-feeding.

  • The foie gras of Gioachino Palestro, a breeder from the town of Mortara in northern Italy, is also made without force-feeding, as this is also forbidden in Italy. He lets his geese freely eat the corn and figs he gives them. He takes six weeks to fatten the animals, compared to two weeks in the industry.

The price of this non-force-fed  foie gras is up to ten times higher than the industrial foie gras. Philippe Ligron, a famous TV presenter in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and spokesman for the Nestlé Alimentarium in Vevey, proposed a recipe based on saindoux (pork fat) in his programme What the fork? some time ago. It would seem that the result has nothing to envy to the foie gras produced by force-feeding.

Of course, there are also plant-based alternatives...

 

Is there any organic foie gras?

Foie gras can never be organic, as the organic product charters exclude foie gras [1]. As a result, producers do not hesitate to use non-organic or even GMO food in bird feed.

Is there halal foie gras?

Although this idea is surprising at first glance, there is indeed foie gras bearing the halal label. The difference lies mainly in the way ducks are slaughtered. They must be conscious when their throat is slit instead of being stunned as is the practice in secular slaughterhouses. France is the biggest consumer of this product, and the French domestic market is saturated. By inventing halal foie gras, the industry has gained access to a new group of consumers. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar also import halal foie gras.

It should be noted that this halal foie gras is highly contested in Muslim circles because some believers think it is not enough to slit the throat without stunning to make the body of the animal halal, it should also have been raised according to Muslim principles, as a creature of God and not as a machine.

 

Is there any kosher foie gras?

Foie gras cannot be kosher, at least not the one obtained by force-feeding. Indeed, according to the kosher principles, the animal must be perfect at the time of slaughter, i.e. neither sick nor injured. As this is obviously not the case for force-fed birds, foie gras obtained by force-feeding cannot be kosher.

 

Is the production of foie gras polluting?

The pollution generated by the manufacture of an animal product depends essentially on the amount of food that has to be spent to make it. This amount of food is strongly correlated to the amount of agricultural land needed to grow it, but also to the amount of water and chemicals, including pesticides, used. Studies show that transport is a marginal factor in this.

Compared to other poultry production, foie gras production is more polluting because of the surplus food used in the force-feeding phase. But the champion of pollution is still the production of beef and dairy products.

 

Isn't foie gras GMO?

Ducks are not in themselves Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), although they are the result of cross-breeding, which is a form of genetic manipulation. However, the feed of ducks, like that of non-organic livestock in general, is very often GMO, both wheat in the pre-feeding phase and maize in the feeding phase. The choice of GMOs is motivated by yield and cost considerations.

 

 

Questions on foie gras alternatives

Are there tasty alternatives to foie gras?

Taste is individual. In addition, it can change over time and be influenced by many factors. In reality, it depends more on one’s culture than anything else... Plant-based alternatives are very often carefully produced, as they try to replace a product consumed at festive meals and highly publicised in the media. They have a basis that can vary greatly depending on the recipe (tofu, mushrooms, brewer's yeast, etc.). Each plant-based  recipe is therefore marked by a specific taste due to its basis.

 

During our tastings of Gaïa Faux Gras, for example, we have very different opinions depending on the taster's a priori. There are lovers of real foie gras who seek to find the exact taste, and who judge on this comparison. They are sometimes surprised to eat something much better than they imagined, even though they don’t find the taste of real foie gras.

 

On the other hand, some vegetarians or vegans don't like the idea of tasting something that looks too much like an animal product... while others are delighted to find flavours that remind them of old experiences.

Is there such a thing as cultured foie gras?

Several start-ups (e.g. Gourmey or Peace of Meat) are working on making cultured foie gras, i.e. made with duck or goose liver cells grown in the laboratory. In these processes, no animals are exploited or injured.

 

The initial cells can be removed without any pain (Gourmey uses egg cells, for example), and then transformed into stem cells, from which any type of cell can be made. Here they are made into liver cells. The first cultured foie gras is announced for 2021.

Where can you find plant-based  alternatives?

Plant-based alternatives are fairly easy to find in health food shops. This is the case of Gaïa Faux Gras and Veg'Gras for example.

The other  plant-based alternatives can be ordered online, directly from the producers, or in certain shops.

Why eat fake foie gras?

For different reasons, which will be specific to each person. Most of the time, people are happy not to have to give up a popular dish while avoiding unnecessary suffering for animals.

Other questions

What about the risk of bird flu?

There is a multiple risk of bird flu: first of all, there is the risk to the birds themselves, which get sick and die (epizootic), but also the risk to humans, that bird flu mutates and affects humans (zoonosis). Both risks exist. Europe has experienced two recent bird flu outbreaks, in 2016 and 2017. New pandemics cannot be ruled out, as they represent an inherent risk to intensive livestock farming. Indeed, the high density of farms is a real breeding ground for all infectious strains. To prevent the emergence of epizootic diseases, animals are most often confined in sheds to limit contact with wild birds, and treated with antibiotics, which has the collateral effect of increasing general antibiotic resistance. If an epizootic occurs, whole farms are slaughtered and borders are closed. No attempt is ever made to treat the birds.

What should I do if I find a duck in bad shape?

If you find a duck, it is certainly because it is injured. You should put it in a punched cardboard box and take it to a vet without delay. If it is a wild duck, for example a mallard, it should be returned to the place where you found it, or to a place with a body of water if the place where you found it is unsuitable because it is too dangerous or otherwise. It will be necessary to make sure with the veterinarian that the animal is able to manage on its own before releasing it.

 

Generally, veterinarians are required to inform the authorities who will indicate the procedure to be followed. If the animal is a domestic species, such as a mulard, it is likely to be from a livestock farm. After having treated it, it would be a shame to put it back into the circuit that will lead it to the slaughterhouse. All the more so as breeding farms foresee a certain percentage of losses... The best thing is to contact us so that we can find a placement solution in a suitable shelter.

How to react to someone who eats foie gras?

Keep calm. They will be obliged to stop this practice when the product is banned.

It is generally useless to talk about force-feeding at the time to a person who is about to eat it. This is probably the moment when they are the  least open to questioning their practices. It's better to talk to them about it later if you think there's a chance that the person is questioning their practices. If you are offered the product, politely refuse and explain that it is impossible for you to consume it because of force-feeding. Try to avoid the boomerang effect, i.e. the person reinforces their opinion of foie gras as a reaction to a discussion that is too disturbing.

Is foie gras healthy or unhealthy?

Foie gras is bad for the health of ducks, that's for sure.

There is an idea circulating that foie gras is good for the health of humans because people in the south-west of France tend to have a long life span. This idea comes from a study by Doctor Serge Renaud in 1992 known as the French paradox. This study was challenged in 1999 by Malcolm Law and Nicholas Wald. Serge Renaud's study does not deal specifically with foie gras, but with the whole Gascon diet, including wine, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, fish and poultry in general. The study does not establish a serious correlation, to our knowledge, between foie gras consumption and longevity. More simply, foie gras is almost pure animal fat. While we cannot say that it is toxic, it is clearly not recommended to eat it, neither a lot nor often.

How can I choose not to eat foie gras with family or friends?

It is generally during the holiday season that one can find oneself at the table with the family, in the awkward situation where foie gras is on the table. There are several possible answers depending on the family and the position one occupies in that family.

If we have a dominant position (father or mother of the family, or if the meeting takes place in your home), we might as well take advantage of it and impose the exclusion of foie gras from the table. But be careful to explain that this is because behind foie gras there are victims. Otherwise, it risks being seen as a whim, and we would miss an opportunity to awaken a potential for empathy. Worse, we risk inducing a boomerang effect. If we have an egalitarian position, or at least support, we can ask the following alternative: it's either me or foie gras. But you have to be prepared to exclude yourself from this group. If we have a marginal position, or if we are an add-on or something else, we must, as the case may be, try to explain the reasons for our refusal, without trying to make anyone feel guilty. With a bit of luck we will find some support. If we become the scapegoat of the evening, it is better to shorten the discussion. There is no point in suffering, we are not in a position to change things at that moment. If you feel attacked, you may not be able to explain yourself calmly. Last option, we arrive at the family meal with a plant-based foie gras. This will still allow you to take part in the festivities and perhaps share a new dish with your loved ones. The discussion on the subject can then perhaps be approached more serenely.

 

 

Misconceptions - preconceived ideas - the lies of the industry

Do force-fed birds really suffer?

Yes, force-feeding is really painful for ducks (and geese), and its consequences too. And the conditions in the cages are also a source of suffering. The 1998 report of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) clearly indicates that ducks are suffering on the farm. The industry has been trying for years to say that ducks do not suffer from force-feeding, even going as far as to pay for the services of certain researchers at the INRA (which became the INRAE in 2019). The imposture was dismantled by Antoine Comiti in his book L'INRA au secours du foie gras (2006).

Is it exaggerated to talk about torture?

No. The fact of inserting a metal tube twice a day into a duck's oesophagus and injecting 400 grams of corn directly into the crop in a few seconds can be considered torture. During the force-feeding phase, mortality is increased tenfold, and if this  treatment is prolonged beyond 15 days, all the birds die. Force-feeding causes liver steatosis, which is a liver disease and is the admitted  purpose of force-feeding. The liver becomes so large that it compresses the birds' lungs, causing respiratory distress. If these descriptions are not enough to convince you that this is torture, take the trouble to watch some videos shot by the association L214 in the feeding halls of the French industry.

I visited a breeding farm and found nothing shocking. Did I miss something?

Yes, certainly.

If the ducks (or geese) were in semi-liberty in a shed or on a field, it is because they were in the pre-feeding phase. In itself, the high concentration of waterfowl without any access to a body of water should already be shocking. But it is true that if you don't know them very well, it may seem acceptable.

If the ducks were locked up in cages, in a shed, they must have been in a pitiful state, and you should have been shocked by the situation. If this was not the case, it is because the person who gave you the tour prepared you well to see only the technical side of their job as a feeder, omitting to talk about ducks as sentient beings, but only as a cog in the wheel of production. In short, you were prepared to see them only as machines... From that point on, nothing is shocking anymore.

Why are ducks said to be sick?

The purpose of force-feeding is to cause a disease called liver steatosis. This disease is characterised by a high concentration of fat cells in the liver. At the end of force-feeding, the size of the liver increases tenfold and the ducks suffer from respiratory distress because the liver compresses their lungs. Mortality during the force-feeding phase also increases tenfold.

What about freedom of choice?

This question is generally asked by people who consume foie gras and who believe that, since they are able to respect the choice of people who refuse to eat it, they should accept that they eat it. With this reasoning, they forget that there is a third individual concerned by this choice: the duck (or goose). It has no choice, it is just a victim of the consumer's choice of foie gras.

When there is a victim, the question can no longer be asked in terms of freedom of choice. In other situations, intra-human for example, this becomes obvious. A rapist cannot justify their actions in terms of freedom of choice, which should be respected. This is obvious because there is a victim: the abused person. The interests of the latter must be taken into account and morally limit, de facto, the freedom of the rapist.

Is the bird that has been force-fed really sick as it is reversible?

Liver steatosis, the disease caused by force-feeding, is a reversible disease, it is true. Ducks with liver steatosis can be cured if treated. But the fact that it is treatable does not make it any less serious. Influenza, measles, some cancers, etc. are treatable, but when you have them, you are sick...

Aren't all anti-foie gras vegan extremists?

No. Force-feeding is such a shocking practice in itself that most people who witness it, if they put themselves in the shoes of ducks (or geese), find it revolting. There are many people who campaign against foie gras and who are not even vegetarians for that matter. But it is true that most animal activists are vegan. The specific fight against force-feeding is no exception. But from there to calling them extremists... it is undoubtedly a question of definition and point of view. We will avoid excessive generalisations.

What do we do with the traditional dimension of foie gras?

The invocation of tradition is the search for the status quo: don't change anything!

If we take a look at this famous foie gras tradition, we can see that it is mainly used  to defend the interests of a very lucrative sector. It is easy to dismantle this so-called tradition by making a diversion through the Cathar period in the south of France, in the 12th and 13th centuries, during which most people were vegetarians...

In Switzerland, there is no tradition associated with foie gras. In fact, a survey of the Swiss population conducted at the end of 2018 shows that tradition is only a minor argument of foie gras consumers.

Is this important since I only eat it once a year?

Yes, most people only eat foie gras during the holiday season. Once or twice a year. This consumption is enough to give birth to and kill more than 80 million ducks each year. The fact that it is only consumed once a year shows how non-essential this product is. It would therefore be possible to abstain from it altogether.

What is envisioned  for workers in the foie gras industry?

This is a legitimate question. If we achieve our goal to end the production of foie gras, the people who live on this product would find themselves deprived of their income. We don't pretend to have all the solutions, but we can still make assumptions.

Most of the workers in the foie gras industry are farmers. They have chosen this agricultural sector, but they could just as well turn to another. With some political will, it would be easy to set up reconversions, and to arrange investments and loans for foie gras production. The other jobs are those linked to the preparation and packaging. A priori and subject to certain rearrangements, these jobs could be preserved for the preparation and packaging of other agricultural products.

And finally, there are the jobs in distribution. These are not affected by a reorientation of production. They do not depend exclusively on the sale of foie gras.

How can you not eat foie gras for someone like me who comes from the South-West of France?

In the South-West of France, there are also activists who campaign against foie gras. The real question is: How can I avoid cutting myself off from my family and friends if I stop eating foie gras?

It's a delicate question and there is no single answer. It all depends on your family and circle of friends, and the position you have within these groups. It is unlikely that you will make them all change, but you can ask them to respect you in your choices and opinions. This becomes easier if society as a whole is closer to your opinions. For example, changing the California or Indian law on foie gras gives you strength to make your position accepted within your family or circle of friends. You have the same opinion as the Californian or Indian state, it is not just a personal whim.

 

[1] REGULATION (EU) 2018/848 of the European Parliament and of the Council on organic production and labelling of organic products of 30 May 2018 - ANNEX II-1.4.1. General feeding requirements-d) Fattening practices shall always respect the normal nutritional patterns of each species and the welfare of the animals at all stages of the rearing process; force-feeding is prohibited.

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