GB No. 8, summer 1992



The Association of Poultry Producers POLDROB is by far the most successful in supplying the market with fattened poultry livers.

The process itself entails force-feeding of ducks and geese with a specially grown variety of corn, characterised by a very high fat content. In the case of ducks the feeding takes place twice every 24 hours and - in full conformity with the specifically designed technology - each bird, initially ca. 3 kg in weight, is expected to digest around 13 kg of corn within 18 days. The feed is virtually pushed down its throat with the aid of a long tube. It means that each bird is supposed to digest within this short period the amount of food equal to 4 times its own body weight.

The result of this diet is fairly obvious: the bird's liver, its chief organ for the processing of fat, produces large amounts of it, that are subsequently being stored in the liver tissue, swelling the organ itself up to 15 times its original size. By comparison, a man of 60 kg would have to digest within 18 days 240 kg of corn, which would in consequence enlarge his liver to the monstrous 23 kg.

For some reason both ducks and geese show surprisingly little understanding in respect to the complexity of this technology and therefore certain measures have been adopted by way of gentle encouragement. All birds must undergo sterylization, have their claws removed, are then locked up in small cages, tight rubber bands are pulled down around their necks.

Sterylization effectively suppreses their procreational instinct, thus saving the producers any breeding problems; the removal of claws precludes the danger of tearing open their sore throats, while the caging ensures the bird's permanent availability to the ministrations of the producer. Finally, a tight rubber band round its neck effectively prevents the return of the large amounts of undigested feed.

POLDROB's commercial success cannot be put down merely to the competence and high qualifications of its staff; the well designed production procedures and efficient co-operation with the private contractors are by no means of any lesser significance. On its own POLDROB would be simply unable to face the challenging task of transforming hundreds of thousands of birds into fattened liver tissue every year.

The co-operation in question is twofold: some contracting farmers have been entrusted only with the task of breeding the young ducks and geese, while others simply get on with the process of fattening their livers, once the birds are deemed to have reached the physical maturity.

POLDROB co-ordinates the whole process by transporting the the input (i.e. the young birds) to the fattening farms and subsequently collecting the output (the dying birds) for processing.

This undoubtedly beneficial, in terms of national economy, activity of POLDROB has curried precious little favour with the activists of the Society for the Protection of Animals (TOZ). They have been rather blunt in its condemnation as senseless cruelty and making common decency subservient to the economic expediency.

Since the country's economy has always been in dire financial straits, their indignant reaction had little impact upon the authorities, too preoccupied with an opportunity of making a quick buck.

The situation had changed in this respect dramatically in 1989, when the activists of the Society decided that the fall of the communist regime in Poland should make the wind blow their way eventually. They promptly brought the whole matter to the attention of the District Prosecutors, demanding that it be properly investigated and a legally binding pronouncement made in the end. The experts had been duly called in and it soon transpired that the whole scheme had been operating in open contravention of the law, besides being blatantly cruel in the actual implementation of the technologies involved.

The Office of the Prosecutor General then put forward a proposal to stop the production of fattened poultry liver altogether, to which the Ministry of Agriculture, represented by the Undersecretary of State, one Henryk Antosiak, replied with an offer of their own, proposing to have the metal feeding tube replaced with a rubber one, the compulsory feeding period cut down to 16 days and the administering of anti-depressants to the birds proscribed as a standard requirement henceforth. The above offer seems to have fully satisfied the Ministry of Justice.

On April 6, 1992 I arrived at the Poznań branch of POLDROB and declared my intention to become a producer of fattened poultry liver. I was duly provided with an address of the person in charge of training in this occupation, whom I then visited two days later.

Mr B. is a blue collar employee of the local drainage company, on whose premises he also lives, running a small, poultry liver fattening business, that regularly yields 200 bird's livers every 20 days, netting him cool 5 mln zlotys a time. The efficient use of the available space merits particular attention: in the shed of a mere 50m some 200 are dying slowly in agony in their own excreta. All birds are either sitting or lying down on their sides, beaks wide open - a sign of good digestive process - if one is to believe Mr B.'s explanation.

The feeding method adopted by Mr B. is stunningly simple in its efficiency. At first, the birds are being pushed to one side of the shed with the aid of a long board. Once there, they are being prodded by Mr B's wife, a few at a time, towards a ramp leading to a small, fenced off platform. At the other end Mr B. is awaiting them, seated next to the electrically powered, feeding machine. He deftly lifts up each bird off the floorboards by its wings and then proceeds to ram a tube sticking out of the machine deep down its throat, by then the bird completely immobilized on his lap. The electric motor of the machine is then switched on by the pedal and the grain visibly starts filling up the bird's throat. Eventually, the bird is released from his grip and propping itself up awkwardly on the outstretched wings it drags itself out to the other side of the shed. Once there, it walks up to the water through and starts drinking in long gulps.

The ducks presently dragging themselves to the water through are in their ninth day of the feeding period, the bulge down on their bellies already quite pronounced, containing an unnaturally enlarged liver. In the most extreme cases the birds might be actually dragging the bulge along on the floor, their walk awkward and unbalanced. Some of them give up the idea of even reaching the water through and lay exausted on the floorboards. On the ninth day there are already 20 of them, each passing day swelling that number.

Mr B. is of the opinion that in regard to those that can no longer move around on their own, the feeding procedure not only musn't be relaxed - it should be even enhanced; the volume of food to be compulsorily ingested is to be increased. Towards the end of such 20 days long cycle nearly all birds must be carried up to the feeding machine.

This is by no means the only difficulty a producer should be prepared to face. During the first days of the cycle some of the birds attempt to kill themselves by banging their heads against the concrete walls of the shed. Others run amok whenever they see the feeder, desperately trying to get in the air. Caution is strongly recommended here as otherwise some birds might easily be trampled down in the commotion, financially a most disagreeable prospect for a keen producer. Their wings should also be left unclipped as the birds can thus be easier lifted off the floor and carried to the feeding machine. Some of the birds, however, totally ignorant of the complex efforts involved in keeping them alive through the specified period, still manage somehow to pass away ahead of the deadline.

All this must obviuously be due to the administrative oversight on the part of the producers, who should have found a way of getting a message across to the birds that the Undersecretary of State Henryk Antosiak deems their fattened livers to be of crucial importance to the troubled national economy, let alone the protests of various social groups at the prospect of halting their production altogether.

Both geese and ducks, the birds renowned for their high intelligence, should definitely take this argument into consideration.

Tadeusz Włodarczyk
"Gazeta Wyborcza" 14.10.92
transl. by Sigullum Ltd.

GB No. 8, summer 1992 | Contents