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Why I Had a Tube Shoved Down My Throat on Piccadilly Circus

03/27/2013 05:03 pm 17:03:43 | Updated May 27, 2013

Last week, I sat at a table on a sidewalk outside Fortnum & Mason, one of London's well-known retailers, and allowed a man to shove a tube attached to a funnel full of grain into my mouth. Admittedly, it wasn't one of my most dignified moments -- nor was it one of Fortnum & Mason's.

Why did we set up a tableau that nearly caused London's taxi drivers to crash into each other on one of the city's busiest streets? Because Fortnum & Mason, which trades on its British heritage and its Royal warrants, still has the indecency to sell foie gras, a "fancy foodstuff" that causes so much suffering that it is illegal to produce it in the U.K. It is considered -- and rightly so -- too cruel. Had our demonstration been more realistic, the man would have shoved the tube all the way down my throat, as is done to geese and ducks on foie gras farms.

Fortnum & Mason -- one of the few remaining U.K. stores that still sells this "torture in a tin" -- has also been caught attempting to fool the British public into believing that the foie gras it sells is "ethical." As a recent undercover investigation conducted by PETA U.K. shows, at French farms owned by the company that supplies foie gras to Fortnum & Mason, conditions are far from ethical.

The geese spend weeks in cramped, barren pens with grated floors through which their waste falls, and there it remains. PETA's investigator documented frightened geese trying desperately to escape as a worker approached with a force-feeding pipe far nastier than the one used on me. Some birds were so ill that they could no longer stand, but they were nevertheless grabbed, flapping, and had the pipe shoved down their throats. Several pounds of mush is pumped into the birds' stomachs several times a day until their livers grotesquely swell to up to 10 times their normal size, the symptom of a painful disease called hepatic steatosis, aka foie gras.

During slaughter, the geese are shoved upside down into "killing funnels." Although they are supposed to be stunned with an electric shock, PETA U.K.'s investigator videotaped a worker skipping the stunning the moment a supervisor's back was turned. Instead, he simply stabbed the birds in the throat. The obviously conscious geese are seen on video blinking, gasping, kicking, and trying to lift their heads.

As if that weren't bad enough, even more house-of-horrors conditions were documented by PETA this year at a foie gras factory farm in Québec owned by a branch of Rougié, the self-proclaimed "world's #1 producer of foie gras." PETA's video shows ducks lined up in rows of coffin-like cages from which only the birds' heads protrude through small openings that facilitate force-feeding. The birds can do little more than stand up and sit down. They cannot even flap their wings and they must stand with their webbed feet on slatted metal. Denied water to bathe and forage in, they become filthy and listless and show the signs of avian depression so well documented by ethologist Konrad Lorenz.

It's more of the same on foie gras factory farms in France, even though, on paper, severely restrictive cages were banned in 2010. Both France and Canada export foie gras all over the globe. The Rougié farm even supplies foie gras to a restaurant in Hermosa Beach, California, despite the fact that the state banned the production and sale of foie gras last year. PETA has filed a lawsuit against that restaurant's owner. Another restaurant in Napa Valley has been sued by the Animal Legal Defense Fund for violating the ban.

Experts in poultry welfare from all over the world have denounced force-feeding birds in order to produce foie gras, not that you need to be an expert in anything to see how hideously cruel the practice is. The scientific consensus is so strong that foie gras production has been banned in more than a dozen countries, including Israel, Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland. But ban or no ban, no respectable business should touch this vile product with a 10-foot force-feeding pipe. If you see it on a menu, please have a word with the proprietor. And if you really want to experience the flavor of a glob or slice of fatted duck or goose liver, there is now a faux foie gras available that lets everyone live.