Spanish farmer produces ‘ethical’ foie gras

12 December, 2013

Despite the controversy surrounding foie gras in the UK, Spanish producer Sousa & Labourdette claims to make ethical goose foie gras, which involves seasonal feasting instead of force-feeding.

Spanish farmer produces ethical foie gras

Image courtesy of Tim Stenton

The luxury brand sees animals eating by natural instinct in the winter, and is built on traditions passed down through generations of the families of both founders Eduardo Sousa and Diego Labourdette.

Claiming to share a “deep respect for nature”, along with their love for foie gras, Sousa and French PhD graduate Labourdette created the brand with the aim of returning “to the essence of foie gras” and at the same time committing to the welfare of the geese and their environment.

Sousa explained that, by nature, migratory geese have the capacity to create and store fat in their livers. However, over the centuries, this natural connection was broken as Greeks and Romans began to force feed geese with figs to fatten the livers.

“Migratory geese have a natural capacity to create and store fat in their livers. This fat, in the form of lipids, is the fuel they need for their long journeys across the continent and is what we call ‘foie gras’,” he said.

Instead of force-feeding their geese, Sousa and Labourdette allow them to feast on the wild foods they find around them in nature. “Windfall fruit, wild seeds and grasses and, most importantly, acorns – the same acorns, rich in cholesterol-reducing oleic acid, that form the diet of Extremadura’s famous Ibérico pig,” he explained.

“Its superbly delicate flavour and characteristic golden colour, which derives mainly from wild yellow lupin seeds, is a direct consequence of the birds’ varied natural diet and their high quality of life, allowing them to fly and graze at will.”

The 200-year-old farm, based in Extremadura in Spain, now produces around 2,000 jars of foie gras from 1,000 geese annually.

“A whole year is required to produce a small, uniformly coloured, regular and fine-textured foie gras,” said Sousa. He explained that wild geese still fly over the family farm, which is situated beneath the birds’ migration path.

“Our free-range geese are partly domesticated, but are visited annually by their wild cousins, thus renewing the gene pool and maintaining the feeding instincts of the established flock,” he explained.

Animal welfare controversy

Foie gras is a highly controversial topic at the moment, with animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently campaigning against retailer Fortnum & Mason’s foie gras, attempting to oust it from the Royal Warrants.

The groups claim the sale of foie gras by Fortnum & Mason goes against the Holders Association’s sustainability guidelines, as it is not Red Tractor-certified.

As a result, Sousa & Labourdette has seen an increase in demand from the UK and have had several visits from animal welfare groups. “All the visits we had from welfare groups valued our production method and they encouraged us to continue doing what we do, respecting the animal’s natural cycles,” said Sousa.

Sousa explained that he had seen the videos that caused much of the scandal and “understood perfectly” the reasons for the animal welfare protests. “We think the correspondent authorities should do something about it, because it is a crime the way they are treating the animals,” he added.

However, he said he never considered changing the description of his products to distance them from the traditional method of force-feeding. “The term foie gras describes exactly what we do, a fattened liver. Nature did it before human force-feeding intervention. Industrial producers took this name from a natural process. We have to re-learn that foie gras does not always imply force-feeding,” he added.

Welfare groups have given mixed reactions to Sousa & Labourdette’s foie gras. CEO of CiWF Philip Lymbery explained that one of its team visited the Sousa & Labourdette farm in 2007. “This is a scheme with potentially very high welfare potential,” he said. “It is being planned by someone who shows considerable concern and knowledge of welfare issues. It has the potential to develop mobile slaughter methods as well as an alternative to force-feeding.”

Dr Marc Cooper of the RSPCA’s farm animal department said the RSPCA welcomed any attempt to improve conditions for farm animals and that traditional production was “unnecessarily cruel and we urge consumers not to buy it”.

However, he added: “The RSPCA is currently unable to comment on the form of foie gras sold by Sousa & Labourdette as we have yet to visit the farm and see for ourselves what productions systems are used.”

A PETA spokesperson expressed its dismay towards the brand and claimed there was “no such thing as ‘ethical foie gras’”. “Plunging a knife into the throat of another sentient animal and then cutting out and eating his or her distended and diseased liver can never be considered acceptable, no matter how the liver is fattened,” he added.

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