It is true that ducks and geese will gorge themselves in the wild in order to fatten themselves up for long seasonal migrations, and as a result, their liver cells will sometimes gain lipids and even change color in a process that veterinarians call steatosis and chefs foie gras.
But it is also true that the process used to force-fatten large numbers of birds (called gavage in French), involves brutlly wedging metal pipes down their throats and often injuring them in the process.
In fact, a study in 2008, based largely on a report by the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Welfare, found that death rates during force-feeding of birds rose as much as 2,000%. Other credible studies indicated precisely what common sense would indicate, that the metal feeding tube was painful to the animals.
The initial response to the publication of these reports was dramatic. First, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production recommended eliminating the practice altogether. Then in July 2012, after allowing several years for farmers to adapt to the decision, California banned the sale of foie gras altogether.
Then, in January 2015 a federal judge ruled that the California ban was unconstitutional because it conflicted with the Poultry Products Inspection Act, a federal law that regulates poultry ingredients and is completely unrelated to the health, suffering or welfare of the animals. Finally, in February of 2016, California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed an appeal to restore the foie gras sales ban leading to its reinstatement in 2017.
Interestingly, Foie gras can actually be produced without the use of gavage, albeit on a much smaller scale. Spanish producer Pateria de Sousa makes his prize-winning foie gras by laying out huge amounts of figs, acorns, beans, and olives for geese late in the fall and then slaughtering the birds right after they’ve gorged themselves voluntarily.
Though the goose livers harvested in this more humane manner are significantly smaller, their quality is also higher. Conscious carnivores must simply be willing to pay the price required in order to bring humane standards to the sourcing of animal products.