A woman feeds geese at a large goose farm in Jiangxi Province Photo: Xinnong.com
By Song Fuli (宋馥李) and Li Yuanyuan (李媛媛) Economic Observer Online Mar 2, 2012 Translated by Laura Lin Original article: [Chinese]
The world's biggest goose farm and foie gras factory will soon be established on the banks of Poyang Lake, in China's Jiangxi Province. The American investment company Creek Project is said to be investing $100 million into the venture.
This news released last week did not come from the company, but by way of the Darwin Natural Knowledge Society, a Beijing-based NGO focused on environmental protection.
Along with caviar and truffles, foie gras is often considered to be one of the "top three" Western gourmet items. However, the forced feeding of geese in order to fatten up their livers has been plagued with controversy internationally. Countries like Germany and Poland outlaw the "gavage" method of feeding, while California prohibits the sale of foie gras. A similar procedure was believed to have first been performed by Egyptian farmers nearly 5,000 years ago.
Under strong condemnation from animal protection groups, the European Union has planned to stop, from 2019 onward, the production of this traditional cuisine. Currently, Hungary, which used to be the second-biggest producer, has gradually decreased its output. Israel, another major producer in the past, has also discontinued its production. And so it is not altogether surprising that production is shifting eastward to China.
The planned Poyang Lake project will raise around two million geese and eight million ducks annually. China already produces an estimated 1,000 tons of foie gras per year, double its output in 2006. France still remains No. 1 in this market with about 20,000 tons a year.
Last year, some French foie gras producers were shut out at the Cologne International Food Fair, triggering some Franco-German tension. "In international trade, the lack of respect of animals' welfare could create barriers, as well as damage a country's image," says Zhang Dan, co-founder of China's Animals Protection Reporters Salon.
Geese or ducks forced to undergo gavage feeding, starting when they are between 10 and 14 weeks old, have a 20 to 30-centimeter-long tube stuck into their esophagus two or three times a day. Food is poured down this tube. Occasionally this causes the bursting of the esophagus. Sometimes the bird develops liver disease.
Animal protection groups try to deter people from eating foie gras, saying that "it's excessively fatty stuff. A normal healthy liver contains only 5 percent of fat whereas the fat content of foie gras is closer to 50 percent," points out Zhou.
"Feeding like this for two weeks is the limit of what the poor birds can bear. Beyond this limit, they'd die in large numbers," says Zhou Zungo, director of the World Animals Welfare Farms Association.
The forced feeding is not only harming the animals, but also the humans who eat the foie gras.
"When a physical entity suddenly receives a large quantity of food, the liver quickly becomes exhausted and this causes them to produce large amounts of trace toxins," the nutrition expert Yu Li explained.
Worse still, "The corn that is used in the West to feed the geese or ducks is clean. In China, corn is often mouldy. It contains cancer-causing aflatoxin. This is commonly detected by China's food industry and commerce departments. Geese or ducks subject to such a diet will be very unhealthy," Zhou said.
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