Investigator's diary - The foie gras industry exposed!

Jul
21

Visit to the farm Collverd.

“On July 21, 2011 we began research on duck farms for foie gras production in Spain. After several weeks documenting and thoroughly studying the industry, we decided to begin our research by visiting one of the most important Catalan company - Collverd. Its President, Jordi Terol, is both President of the association which brings together producers and companies producing foie gras state-wide - the Interpalm, and the Vice President of the European Association of Foie Gras.

As this is a very secretive industry, we decided to start by contacting its highest representative, thinking that if we earn his trust then it would be easier to access the farms and document the reality of the situation for the exploited animals.

When we arrived we met Jordi Terol in his office. He introduced himself and told us that he was very angry. He handed me his mobile phone and asked me to read aloud an email that he had received explaining that the organisers of one of the largest food shows in the world in Germany - Anuga 2011 - had prohibited producers of foie gras attending, on the grounds that they did not want the show to be related to animal abuse.

This email led to him criticising those engaged in animal protection and he spent much time in this altered state, non-stop criticising and ridiculing activists and other people who care about the suffering of animals.

Shortly afterwards, Jordi took us to the breeding and rearing farms that supply, and have offices near, Can Ruet. Once there we could see ducklings of two days old arriving from French hatcheries. In these farms, ducks are allowed to live up to 21 days old – which is when they begin to develop fluff. They then are taken to a larger arena, where they will live up to 88 days of age. This is the ‘rearing process’.

Jordi taught us about both phases and also led us to a warehouse destined for force feeding. The warehouse was empty of animals at the time. He said the farmer responsible would not fill it until September because the high temperatures caused many casualties and it was not profitable to fill it in the summer. Jordi also showed us the facilities where they put the ducks in individual cages, which had a capacity for 1,659 ducks during force-feeding.

Jul
26

“On July 26, 2011 we made the second visit of the investigation. We went to Solés Pagés, a small production farm situated in Colomers, Girona. Some members of the foie gras industry often refer to this type of production as "pirate farming" - as there are a lot of irregularities. Solés Pagés has been operating for 29 years, raising ducks for foie gras, and 150 animals are killed per week on the farm.

Upon arrival we were welcomed by the farm owners, Narcis and Montse. The day we went was the day that ducks were slaughtered on the farm, so we were able to document this.

Unconventional facilities

The facility was not an average farm - It was an old large house with land attached. This type of structure is commonly known as ‘masia’ in Catalonia. Beside the house was a brick structure, and this is where the animals were held.

The farm was in close proximity to the town center - in the same street infact. So we realised immediately that the farm owners were breaching regulations regarding the minimum distance that should exist between a farm and a town.

The building which housed the ducks was dirty, old and apparently neglected. Narcis confessed that the workers do not disinfect the farm (though they were required to do so by law). There were three distinct sections of the farm: two held the ducks who were being force-fed - which at the farm lasts about 15 to 17 days, and the other section was where the killing took place. There was also an area where workers manufactured the products.

Killing of the ducks

Narcis greeted us and immediately started his days work – which centred on the killing of ducks.

He went to where there were caged animals, removed them from the cages and crammed them into other rudimentary wire-mesh cages on a wheelbarrow. He then transported them to the room where the animals were slaughtered. Once inside, the panicked and panting ducks were stabbed with a knife in full view of other eachother.

The farmer killed around 75 ducks, one after another, whilst he smoked a cigar.

Some of the animals remained conscious after being stabbed, and they were gasping and wriggling whilst being hung over a metal sink that was filling with blood.

Several workers were involved in the killing process. These workers were responsible for performing various tasks including scalding and plucking the animals, opening up the carcasses, an removing then preparing the foie gras.

When the farmer had finished killing all of the ducks, he hung them carcasses from a metal frame with wheels attached, similar to a coat rack, and took them outside. He left the bodies in the garden of the house. Flies immediately began settling on them and in the holes where the animals had been stabbed.

Preparation process

After a few minutes, Narcis came for the corpses and took them to the refrigeration area to begin the process of preparing the foie gras.

We witnessed how the operators removed the livers of the dead ducks, weighed, sorted and selected by size, texture and shape. We were watching and documenting all the work for a long time. We left at lunchtime and returned in the afternoon to document the force feeding process.

The individual cages

That day we had arrived at 7:30 in the morning, so we could not attend the first force feeding session. Force feeding is performed on all farms twice a day (or approximately every 12 hours). We were told that we could be present for the afternoon session and also could document the process. This meant that we would be able to obtain the first pictures of force feeding of ducks for our research on foie gras farms.

It was a very rainy afternoon. We met the worker who was dedicated, exclusively to the force feeding process. The fact that it was such a rainy afternoon was something that was in our favur, as Narcís did not come with us to where the ducks were, so we were able to be alone with the worker. We were then able to record with ease.

For the first time we were able to get a close-up view of the individual cages. In these cages, the ducks could not move, or even turn around. When some of the animals tried to spread their wings, their wings hit the bars.

Narcis had told us that prior to and during force feeding, the ducks can be very nervous and, if workers were not attentive to help, break and fractures have been known to occur. These injuries, of course, were not treated.

The ducks in these cages have no life outside of waiting to be force-fed each day - until they reach the appropriate weight for slaughter.

Force feeding process

The worker walked down the aisle with a cart filled to the top with cooked corn kernels, which was taken off the cart using a metal bucket. The bucket was then used to pour the food into the top of the funnel which was forced into the animals.

We were now able to view up close the shocking process of force feeding. We saw the corn disappearing down into the funnel, and the increasing crop of the animals. We could see perfectly the shape of the tube through the skin and feathers, down into the ducks oesophagus. The ducks opened their eyes wide as the food went in. Some tried to move their heads away from the funnel, but it was no use. Several animals convulsed as they were force-fed. Many were left exhausted and dejected after the tube was removed.

We were witnessing the final stage of force-feeding (i.e. the 15th day of force feeding), which meant that the animals already had extremely fatty livers.

The ducks had clear breathing problems and they spent the entire duration of our visit opening and closing their beaks and panting. It was very distressing to watch.

After visiting this farm, we already had enough material to document the entire process of production of foie gras. But the investigation had just begun.”

Aug
01

Visit to the farm Induànec

“We arrived at the farm Induànec in Bescanó (Girona), at around 06:30 in the morning. There we were received by Albert Molas, the owner, who informed us that the operation had been running for 20 years. On this farm only the process of force-feeding and production of foie gras is carried out. There are around 220 ducks a week who are killed, and the end-product are sold to commercial, private and restaurants (such as "Les Cols", Olot). We had scheduled our visit on the day that the ducks were killed.

Killing of the ducks

The killing process was highly mechanized and repetative: live animals entering and inanimate objects exiting, one after another…

We documented how some ducks spent several seconds, even a minute, kicking and struggling non-stop kicking after being be-headed.

The struggle of the ducks to survive was something that could also be heard. The sound of their pounding feet against the metal was overwhelming. Its intensity was gradually reduced, from a great racket to a slight tinkling noise, as the animals slowly died.

I witnessed something: the kernels sprung from the crops of the ducks at the time that they were stabbed to death. The animals were literally saturated with the food that they had been forced to swallow. The scene was pretty nasty, as the corn was mixed with blood that was splattered on the walls and floor, forming a strange mixture.

Inveraliment, the farm for breeding and rearing of ducks for Induànec

We asked Albert where the ducks that were used for force feeding came from, as Induànec commences its operation directly in the force feeding phase. He told us that they came from the next village, Sant Gregori, and that they were provided by a company called Inveraliment – which is dedicated exclusively to the breeding and rearing of ducks.

Toni Vega, the Manager of Inveraliment, took us to the ducklings in the breeding area. The animals are housed in aisles for a few days where the temperature can be controlled, and when they reach 21 days, they go outside. When we entered the building, none of the animals wanted to see us, or be close proximity to us. They huddled close together at the far end. They were like a sea of yellow, very close to eachother, and moving all the time. They were very small and walked with short steps, timely and not separated for a moment. We asked about the fate of the female ducks, as the industry only exploits the males. Toni told that the females are killed in France during the sexing process, usually by being crushed alive as they are not profitable for the production of foie gras.

Later, we went to visit the ducks in the breeding area. Ducks are extremely social animals, so again they stayed very close together. The ducks here had free access to food and water.

Toni explained about the "rationing" which takes place at the end of the growing stage to prepare the ducks for force feeding. During rationing, ducks no longer have free access to food and, once a week, are deprived of food for a day. When they are allowed to eat again, they swallow very quickly and with great voracity. Thus, alternating days of fasting with days of "binging" means that the ducks consume large volumes of food.

After visiting Inveraliment we went to eat, and then returned to document the Induànec force feeding process.

Arrival of the ducks to individual cages

As it was a day of slaughter, a new batch of ducks was brought to the individual cages to be fattened. We were able to witness how the workers put them into the tiny metal frames, and the animals’ extremely nervous behaviour. I figured it must have been very stressful for them to go from living in a large environment to a place where, after a few days, they could not even turn around. In 15 days they would go from weighing 4.5 kg to weighing over 7 kg.

The ducks taken to the aisle did not stop shaking inside the cages and attempting desperately to escape. They were behaviours that contrasted greatly to those observed in ducks who had been fattened for several days within the same aisle. These animals were totally submissive and motionless, as if they had given up hope.

The workers were very cautious when putting the ducks in the cages. But if any individuals attempted to escape, they had no problem with crushing their necks with the cage doors so they could not escape.

It was also common for workers to catch the wings of the ducks when closing cage doors. After some time struggling, some animals were beginning to show signs of depression and immobility. At that point it occurred to me that these animals would never walk or spread their wings again, and maybe they sensed this too.

Perhaps because we were there, the teasing of animals by workers was constant. The workers came to take the ducks by their wings, keeping the animals extended in the air, whilst grinning, looking at us and mocking “Come on, fly, fly!". The ducks were clearly terrified and did not stop flapping. It was a highly stressful situation for them.

On this farm the ducks were put into individual cages when they were 4 kg in weight and they left the cages weighing around 6 and a half kg. Being so young at the time of caging, some duck had managed to squeeze through the bars and scamper down the hall where they clustered with other fugitives at the end of the aisle.

Many of the ducks were constantly spinning around in the cage, which Albert told workers was very annoying. According to him, the animals could not be constantly turning, because this behaviour resulted in them facing the far end of the cage. He told us, whilst laughing, that to change this behaviour you sometimes have to hit the ducks. His exact words were:

"If they get used to turning the other direction themselves… then they avoid the funnels. It's the annoying because you've got to let the machine run. If you have 320 ducks, and all of them are turned away, when you're half way through feeding you hit them over and over again, and then see if they turn! But you cannot do that, can you?"

History of the farm and its neglect

The owner also explained that when he began working on the farm they could not feed the ducks properly and many of them died. By extending the force feeding process for too long, they suffered heavy casualties, as the ducks ended up dying from eating too much corn.

"And now in the summer, they die from the heat… the heat causes heart attacks" he said.

Albert told us that in recent years he had seen injuries of all kinds in ducks which had been caused by careless neglect. He said:

“Yes, I have done this. I have hurt many, many ducks. I have really scratched them, I mean really scratched them. It’s like this; after forcing the tube down their throat time after time, a scab forms. The more you hurt them, the bigger the scab becomes which makes it even more difficult to get the tube down their throat. This in turn means that they don’t eat as much. (…) the ducks’ bodies stretch little by little. If you aren’t careful, you can literally fill them up until they are ready to burst!”

But Albert, like any worker we spoke to, fiercely defends the legitimacy of the business. But he explains that some students of the culinary world are alarmed by the force feeding process, and that a large number of them do not want to see it. He also says that he knows that this is something that society rejects and he also shows great reluctance to let us record. Finally though, we are able to obtain enough material.

I remember at the end of the visit he came to me and told me that I was the first person to document everything, and that normally he would not let anyone record. He said that he hopes none of this comes to light. He reminded me that we should only use the material for the work of students and not to put it on the Internet. He said "people do not understand and it is better that they are not shown".

Albert also told me that some Catalan farms provide antibiotics to the ducks so that they can withstand the force feeding process and thus avoid casualties. The animals on these farms are stronger, fatter, and less likely to become sick or weakened. He said it is illegal but still practiced on some farms:

"This is prohibited. The good news about the antibiotic is that the duck can hold much more. It does not suffer as much. It can eat much more… and is calm. If you're sick and you take an antibiotic, it leaves you relaxed, and makes you feel better. There are people who still do this. Of course, if you do look, every law has a loophole."

We spent most of the day on the farm. We tried to be there as long as possible so we could obtain many images, so that we could capture every detail of everything that was happening inside this place of exploitation. We have to show the reality of the duck farms, lest the individuals are forgotten. If we provide society with the reality, then people can make an informed decision about supporting or not the industry.”

Sep
21

Visit to the company Can Manent

“On September 21, 2011 we visited the company Can Manent, also known as ‘E-9’, in Santa Eulalia de Ronçana, Barcelona.

This farm has been operating 18 years and produces around 12,000 ducks annually. It started its production with five ducks and currently kills about 250 individuals a week. The farm is exclusively devoted to the process of force feeding and production of foie gras. Their product is sold internationally to Rome, Switzerland, USA and Japan, and in important restaurants - Sant Pau, Mugaritz and El Celler de Can Roca.

We were greeted by Emili Cucala, the Owner. He intended to show us his farm but told us that they have a policy that only force feeders can be in the aisle to avoid causing stress to the ducks. It was the first time a producer told us to take into account the stress of the ducks. Despite not being able to document the process of initiation, he granted us an interview.

Concept of animal abuse

We met with the Owner in Santa Eulalia de Ronçana, where there are foie gras processing plant and offices. His farm is located in Lliçà d'Amunt. Among other questions, I asked what he thought about the criminalisation of foie gras. I did not expect at all, an answer like the one he gave. And even less that it was totally sincere when he referred to the concept of "animal abuse". He said:

"There is no animal that is not abused if it is raised for eating. And in this sense all animals are mistreated. […] Mistreating does not always mean you hit or kick the animal […] What do you mean? Well, the animal is not allowed to do the things he does in nature. It is mistreated."

Thereafter he detailed how the use of animals, not only ducks, undermines and abuses individuals. For example, we talked about the abuse implicit involved in human consumption of milk and eggs:

"He abuses the cow because a cow giving milk is abuse. Because, how many litres does a cow give in its natural state? It only produces when milk is needed for the young. Cows do not continue to give milk. When the calves stop, the milk stops. How many litres? Before it used to produce 5 litres. Now she produces 50 litres. In the literal sense of the word… it's terrible. A cow is not supposed to produce this amount each time it has a baby. And this is not abuse?"

"How many eggs do hens lay? With a chicken it is the same. When you manipulate an animal to make it produce eggs every day - at least one - you are already mistreating, right?”

Emili summarized his view on this subject as follows:

"I think that all this is politics, and if you take it to the end, simply the best way not to mistreat animals is not to eat them. […] They are equal to us in one way or another, if ultimately you kill to eat. If you are aware of this, if you knew the animals were being raised for killing, then why be nervous huh?"

We left the office without having obtained any E9 image exploitation, but knew how important such statements, made by Cucala Emili, were for the animal rights movement.”

Feb
17

Visit to the Farm Can Ruet, by Josep Jofre

“On February 17, 2011 we visited the farm, Can Ruet, located in Far d' Empordà, Girona. This farm provides exclusively to Collverd - Jordi Terol’s company - where the ducks are killed and the foie gras prepared. This farm is used for marketing for Jordi, as he usually brings visitors there, as if it were a Collverd farm.

The farm has been operational since 1991 and currently produces 25,000 ducks a year, having capacity to reach 40,000. There is a section devoted to the breeding and rearing of ducks. A few kilometres away there are other facilities, which are exclusively used for breeding, and there are also two force feeding aisles: one small - with a capacity of housing 672 ducks, and one large - with a capacity of housing 987.

We arrived at the farm at 06:30 and headed to one of the aisles (the smallest one), where we could begin documenting force feeding.

Force-feeding

On Can Ruet, unlike other farms, ducks are fed with "pasta" - a mixture consisting of 47% corn flour and 43% of water (with a little corn added). The force feeding period lasts 13 days and takes place in two daily sessions. It begins with an amount of 400 g of pasta being fed to the animals, and 40 g is increased thereafter, at each feed. This depends however on the resistance of individual animals, and also the season. On the tenth day the feed has increased to 800-900 g pasta in each funnel, and this volume will remain constant until the end of the force feeding period. In total the animals ingest an average of 11 kg of maize (corn dry weight).

When we visited the farm, the ducks only been confine in individual cages for five days. We observed their wide eyes each time the workers introduced the funnel, and their fear at the arrival of the workers. The ducks were moving their heads away, and trying to turn around.

Although expressions of ducks tend not be as recognizable as those of mammals, reflected on these ducks faces were signs of shock and distress that were caused by the process of force-feeding.

Once we had witnessed the force-feeding process in the small aisle, we visited the larger aisle. We could not document the force feeding, but the ducks were in an extremely pitiful state.

The ducks were extremely filthy - many of their feathers were covered with maize paste. This form of feeding seemed more unpleasant than the feeding of cooked maize, as the paste flowed out of the ducks’ mouths and stained their bodies.

The ducks had endured 10 days of force feeding, so many of them already had inflamed livers, and possibly irreversibly damage (severe steatosis). We were told that many of the birds are unable to endure the entire process and they die prematurely.

Of the ducks that were housed within the big aisle, we could see at least five dead. These animals had not been able to overcome the hardness of the force feeding phase. Signs of depression, weakness, and respiratory problems were very evident in the live animals. We saw some ducks completely motionless, resting their heads against the bars, staring. It was hard not to empathize with them, and not imagine how you would feel in those moments.

At 7:30 am we had finished our visit to the priming aisles of Can Ruet and were to return again to document how the ducks were brought to the slaughter of Collverd.

Second interview with the president of the industry

At 12:00 we had our second interview with Jordi Terol. This time we took a hidden camera, in case he spoke again about his intention to send "thugs" to animal rights activists. When we mentioned this statement to him, he said he had not spoken seriously and that he only said those things because he was angry after learning of his inability to attend the German food fayre.

I thought that during the interview he seemed calmer, though he returned to attack very aggressively those who questioned the foie gras industry, calling them "cynical". With his usual arrogant tone, he told us that the society had removed so much of nature that there was now a clean conscience regarding the "humanizing of animals".

So Jordi began spinning a series of strange interpretations about the "true intentions" of the campaigns to discredit the foie gras industry. He said there was a suspicious relationship between the bovine crisis produced after "mad cow" disease in Europe developed, and attacks on their industry. He claimed that he had checked the stats and they indicated that the lower the consumption of beef, equated to an increased consumption of duck. When the situation became normal again, consumers preferred, "of course", to continue eating duck meat. His conclusion: the beef producers acted in complicity with animal advocates to ruin their business. His words left me speechless.

In addition to these conspiracy theories, he told us several anecdotes where he was portrayed as an idol. He also criticised the French industry and said that had popularized foie gras”.

With respect to future business prospects, Collverd informed us that they had already started to export. He told us that thanks to international sales there business was still successful, as if it was only for the Spanish market they would not survive.”

Feb
28

Visit to farm Anecs La Barroca.

“This farm is located in the town of Sant Aniol de Finestres, Girona and has been operational for 10 years. When we got there at 06:30, it was still dark. We were greeted by Salvador Coll, Owner, with ten years experience in the production of foie gras.

Here they produce 180 ducks a week, and their livers and bodies are sent to other companies, "L'Ànec the Pyrenees" and "More Parés". Salvador told me that they also sell "in black" to restaurants with several "Michelin stars" such as "El Celler de Can Roca" and "L'Aliança d'Anglès”.

Force feeding

We went with him to the farm and immediately began to put the cooked corn in two cars that also contained the feeding gun or "feeding instrument". When the workers began force feeding it was still dark.

I remember there was a duck who was killed that day, as it was having a hard time breathing. When they are in this state some farmers say "it seems that these folks are chewing gum," as the animals open and close their beaks continuously. I also saw animals completely exhausted and dejected. I remember one of them, because his head was resting on the trough and his appearance was completely depressed.

In addition to the ducks experiencing their final force-feeding, there were others who had only been there a few days. Their attitude was very different, as they were very disturbed at the time of force feeding and tried desperately to get out of the cages when someone approached. Some ducks were very small and very nervous. It was shocking to see the difference in attitude between some individuals and others.

Killing of the ducks

After an hour of force-feeding, they proceeded to the slaughter of animals, and this marked the end of the fattening process for that day.

All the ducks were in the same aisle, locked in individual cages. Outside the aisle was a small corridor, with a door leading into the room where the ducks were killed.

On this farm I experienced the process of killing in a very different way. Although the workers used the same device to stun, the same metal cones in which the ducks have their throats cut, the same scalding and plucking machines… the process of moving the ducks what really made an impression on me. The workers carried the ducks one at a time, holding the animals by their wings. The workers made one trip after another, carrying the ducks in that position, which enabled me to see their faces well before they entered the room where they would be killed. I remember their eyes. I remember their expressions in that rare moment whereby they were being taken by their wings directly to their death. Although they were completely immobilised. In these eyes I could convey the anxiety and stress that the animals were feeling.

As was the case on other farms, ducks were still aware at the time of being killed. They stamped their feet whilst they bled incessantly inside the metal cone. It was the last moment of their lives and yet they were still struggling with all their strength to survive.

We were documenting the slaughter of all animals, seeing how they died, one after another, until it ended. We left at 10:00.

This would be the last farm in Catalonia where we would document the force feeding process. After many months of research we were finally at the closing stage of the investigation and we knew that all the suffering we had witnessed was not going to be silenced.””

Mar
12

Last visits: Farm Can Ruet and slaughterhouse Collverd.

“We returned to the farm, Can Ruet, provider of Collverd, with Josep Jofre. We agreed that we would return and document the transport of ducks to the slaughterhouse of Collverd.

We arrived at the farm at 07:45. The truck and Jofre were already on their way to slaughter, carrying the first batch of ducks. There was a worker putting the ducks in boxes – three ducks in each box. As the truck would take a while to come back for the other ducks, we decided to enter the aisle to document.

Transport to slaughter

The first impression upon entering was strange. Virtually all the cages were empty ... but the animals were still locked up, this time in the boxes. The boxes were hard plastic and stacked to form columns of seven units. Among them, the ducks were panting and moving with difficulty. The droppings of ducks on the upper floors fell continuously over the duck boxes below them. The animals could hardly lift their necks and they appeared very uncomfortable. We could see their bulging bellies and even blood on one of the boxes, which made me think that some of them must have had internal bleeding.

We approached the ducks who had not been put into boxes. They had survived 13 days of force feeding and, on day 14, were about to leave their cages to end their lives at the slaughterhouse. The gloom was indescribable. The animals clearly found it very difficult to breathe and it seemed as if they could not hold their own weight. There was one duck in particular presenting a bleak picture: his neck was stretched, supporting his beak on the edge of the cage and struggling to continue breathing. His condition was critical.

Within minutes Jofre came with the truck and the boxes to grab the ducks who were caged. The workers piled the boxes in stacks of seven, and began to put the ducks inside them. As the worker could not reach the last of the boxes he threw the ducks inside. Once the ducks were all inside boxes, the truck began the journey to the slaughterhouse.

Killing of the ducks

We followed the truck to the slaughterhouse. When we arrived, the workers were on their time off. After a while they began to unload the boxes from the truck and take their places on the slaughter line.

The workers began by removing the ducks from the boxes and taking them to where they would be killed. I could see that those who were inside the boxes began moving awkwardly toward the bottom, gathering and trying to hide. But they could not do anything when a worker took them by their neck or wings and hung them by their legs in the metal hangers. The ducks were extremely nervous: moving frantically, swaying back and forth, trying to disengage. But the weight of their body prevented them. I thought how sad it was that they could only re-open their wings after all this time during this dramatic situation.

The hangers are moved automatically, leading the ducks to the stream of electrified water that numbed them before slaughter. We could hear the metallic tinkle caused by the ducks struggle throughout the route of the hangers.

Some ducks were still conscious when their throats were cut. In fact, we documented how one of the ducks came alive and continued flapping until reaching the blanching machine.

Once dead the very industrialised process of plucking and cleaning the bodies began.

Jofre was putting the livers on a scale, explaining that its economic value is based on weight. He told us that this batch was "in the middle". Although this was not the first time I saw them, I was still surprised by the size of the livers. It is hard to believe that individuals so small, at most 7 kg and a half, could accommodate organs so unusually large.

With this visit we left behind the company Collverd for the completion and final part of our research on Catalonia foie gras farms.”