Force fed Foie gras – cubic zirconia?

*  Please read the whole article. By French law foie gras has to come from force fed birds which many view as unethical, but there is another way and it depicts being an ethical omnivore – ‘choice, great food and universal respect’.

My aim is to make choices based on fact, therefore I research everything before making a judgement. I wanted to understand the origins of foie gras and how it became such a controversial topic. Foie gras means ‘fat liver’ it occurs naturally in migrating birds building up their reserves before making their long flight. Our consumption of foie gras is recorded as far back as the Egyptians with stone carvings depicting geese and ducks being hand fed corn.

The process of ‘Gavage’ is the force feeding of geese  and ducks to create the engorged fatty liver that is known today as foie gras. The birds are often restricted in individual cages during this time. The use of the words ‘force feeding’ should tell you everything you need to know.

In reality the forced version is could be viewed as faux gras. It is a manmade version of a product that naturally occurs in migrating birds as they fuel up in preparation for their long flight. It is similar to De Beers selling cubic zirconia as diamonds? This seasonal delicacy that was once sourced from a migrating geese and ducks, has become a factory farmed all year round horror show. Part of the lunacy of this is that under french law foie gras can only be called foie gras if it comes from a bird that has been force fed – ‘sacré bleu!’ This law was introduced to prevent people passing any old fatty liver off as foie gras and keep the money rolling in.

So let’s look to Spain for some sanity in this crazy topic. A producer that is passionate about food, but also has the greatest respect for nature, Sousa & Labourdette produce a superior and traditional foie gras with no force feeding. Watch this short video clip https://vimeo.com/83323736 it is very interesting and refreshing. Night and day from the torment and cruelty that force fed foie gras represents.

France produces 79% of foie gras, production is banned in the UK as it is in a lot of other countries. However the import and sale of foie gras is still legal in the UK and it is served in a lot of high end restaurants. It is an awkward moment when people in your party order foie gras. Let them know they are paying for diamonds and getting cubic zirconia. It is literally a fatty liver with very little relation to the original delicacy.

This article is about more than one product. Force fed Foie gras, battery hen eggs and milk veal have been present in ethical debate for decades, this is about the importance of questioning food production, being informed and making ethical choices about everything we consume.

Apologies if the image below is distressing (it is for the birds), it depicts a typical force fed foie gras farm and not dissimilar to any other factory farmed operation.

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White striping in chicken breast

Would you like extra fat with your chicken breast sir. A serving of muscle disorder perhaps? Known as white striping, it is a condition that affects nearly all chickens raised under intense conditions (factory farming). Look at any packet of supermarket chicken breast that is not free range or organic and you will most likely see it for yourself.

White striping has become common in recent years. According to a 2016 study by the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M, after testing a total of 285 birds, the study found that 96% had white striping. This is a similar picture in the UK and Europe where the same type of hybrid birds are raised for meat under the same conditions as in the US.

It is visible as white striations parallel to muscle fiber on surface of breast. The birds suffer from a muscular disorder, similar to muscular dystrophy, due to the way they are raised (all they really do is eat), they double the size in half the time, genetically manipulated to make them bigger than nature intended with around an 80% increase in the amount of breast meat.

What are the effects of white striping:

  • Breast fillets affected by severe white striping have been found to contain up to 224% more fat and 9% less protein than normal breast meat
  • Muscle disorders like white striping are chronic, degenerative conditions that cause pain and suffering in broiler chickens
  • Lower quality meat overall, with woody breast also often being present, making the meat chewer as well as fattier.

White striping is considered as moderate to severe, any white striping has the same effects to varying degrees.

Good chicken isn’t cheap and cheap chicken isn’t good. You don’t have to have a degree in biology to understand that encouraging chickens to eat 23 hrs a day, giving them little room to move and growing them to full size in 35 days isn’t good for anyone.

How do you avoid white striping?

Don’t buy intensively farmed chicken in any form; in the supermarket, in a restaurant, as fast food, in a sandwiches. Remember if it isn’t labelled free range or organic it is intensively farmed. Farm fresh, corn fed, Red tractor, it is all intensively farmed. RSPCA assured is a higher standard and a better choice, but still indoor farmed. In the supermarket choose free range or organic chicken.

The best way to buy chicken is from an independent farmer, available online if not locally, one that is proud to tell you why they are real farmers. There is a price difference but it is for a good reason, you are not comparing the same product. If you have never had a slow grown roast chicken you will never have tasted real chicken. If your budget is tight or as part of cutting down on meat intake aim for – eat less meat, but eat better meat. Check out these websites and you’ll see what I mean:

Pheasant breast is a very good alternative to chicken, available of line or if you live in a rural area and can find the butcher that processes game meat if it a very good option. I’ll write a separate post about pheasant.

Parting thoughts: We don’t like problems we can see. Take hock burns, a lot of producers deal with it by cutting the lower leg joints off, so rather than fix the cause, they cut it off so you can’t see.

The industry hasn’t found a way to ‘get rid’ of white striping yet, but we sure they are working on it. Sadly it won’t be by improving conditions and dealing with the real cause, the focus will be on whether you can see it or not. It is the choices you make that have the highest impact on the behaviour of the industry.

As well as the things we can see, there are many things we can’t see. Altering nature to get bigger, faster cheaper has consequences. For more info see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-cS

Cluck cluck, the Ethical omnivore

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If you eat chicken, read this

Grow fast, die young, (very young) – The modern broiler (meat) chicken, typically a Ross 308 or Cobb 500 is a very different animal to the one we envisage peaking around the farm yard. Huge investment has been made by the industry to grow the chicken as large as they can as fast as they can. This work continues with ongoing pressure to produce more and more cheap chicken whilst maximising profit, weights increase and days decrease. This presents huge animal and human welfare, environmental issues and global health risks all for a lower quality product.

Let the facts explain:

  • Chicken along with pork is our most intensively farmed meat with over 90% reared in intensive systems
  • Intensively farmed chickens live 0.1% of their natural life
  • Figures from the FSA published Oct 2017 found Campylobacter contamination in 56% of chicken from 3,980 samples – 29.5% @ 10 – 99 cfu/g, 21.6% @ 100 – 1000 cfu/g and 5.9% over 1000 cfu/g. This is a decrease from previous years but highlights the price of force farming animals. *Campylobacter is naturally found in all poultry but not at the dangerous levels seen in industrial farming.
  • Chicken is also our most popular meat making up 50% of meat consumed in the UK
  • More than 975 million broiler (meat) chickens are slaughtered every year in the UK, that is 2.3 million a day
  • From chick to the supermarket shelf in 5 weeks, typically 35-40 days
  • Broiler chickens have been genetically modified to grow 4x faster than a traditional breed
  • A modern chicken processing plant can process 26,000 birds per hr
  • Chicken catching machines can handle up to 26 tonnes of birds per hour (about 8000 birds per hour – at 2.5 kg per bird)
  • A typical chicken shed holds 40,000 birds
  • About 5% die or have to be culled prematurely
  • Intensively farmed chickens live in sheds stocked at 42kg (EU) and 39kg per m2 (UK), that is up to 17-25 chickens per square meter
  • 1/3 of broiler chickens suffer from lameness and can’t walk without pain
  • They are often subjected to 23 hrs of artificial light per day to encourage them to keep eating
  • BPC figures reported 23.72 tonnes of antibiotics were administered in 2016 despite evidence that they could be fuelling drug resistant forms of dangerous food poisoning illnesses in humans, including campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli.
  • Campylobacter is the leading cause of food poisoning in the UK. It makes 280,000 people ill each year. 80% is attributed to raw poultry
  • Breast meat severely affected by WS (*White Striping) has dramatic variations in nutritional values, including a 224% fat content increase and a 9% protein decrease.
  • Chicken lorries heading to the slaughter house, the ones you see on the motorway layed with orange crate carry around 6000 birds.
  • A poussin is an even younger chicken, less than 28 days old
  • Free range and organic chicken is around typically 8-12 weeks
  • Some independent producers offering 100 days / 14 week old chickens
  • The natural life span of chicken is around 5-10 yrs, depending on the breed

*White Striping – growing demand has led to genetic selection to produce fast-growing broilers,inducing the appearance of several spontaneous, idiopathic muscle abnormalities along with an increased susceptibility to stress-induced myopathy. Such muscle abnormalities have several implications for the quality of fresh and processed products. Three commonly reported types of breast muscle myopathies in broilers are deep pectoral myopathy (DPM), white striping (WS), and wooden breast (WB)

 It’s not nice – but THAT is how supermarkets can sell a whole chicken for £2.60 per Kg! Cheap chicken being good value is a myth. It is low quality, unsustainable and high risk. For free range birds in the supermarkets you’ll pay around £4.25 per kg for free range and £6.95 per kg for organic whole birds.

Outside the supermarket you’ll find superior choices that often go over and above minimum standards and are focused on producing a better quality product, such as:

  • Ginger pig 100 day at £10 per kg
  • Fosse meadows 81 days at £6.45 per kg
  • Springfield poultry min 70 day, £6 per kg
  • Suttonhoo poultry min 70 days, £6.50 per kg
  • Search for slow grown or traditionally raised chicken and you’ll find plenty more.

At the butchers, farm shop, markets or independent retailers, always ask how the chicken was produced, don’t assume it is higher welfare.

As with any meat, don’t buy on price alone. Consider what you are getting for your money. Think about the value, the taste, the texture, health considerations, you are not comparing the same product and with chicken the extra money is well worth it. Being and EOr is not simply about replacing your meat with an ethical product, it is also about cutting down our meat consumption, therefore offsetting the cost of superior meat products. Eat less and eat better.

Learn more https://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/chickens/meat-chickens

Beware of the Red tractor logo! It does not mean higher welfare, it is still intensive indoor rearer broiler chickens.

 

 

Parting thoughts – Buy chicken with caution, there are higher welfare options and the cost different is well worth it. There are also lots of ways to replace chicken in dishes if you choose to cut down or want to give chicken meat up.

P.S. I have not added any pictures of inside broiler houses, processing plants or chicken catching machines in action. If the information about is not enough to make you think, Google it and view images or videos. Instead a picture of baby chicks full of hope and a new day 🙂

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