The images are gruesome. A live duck is hurled against a cement pillar and another has its head pulled off while farm employees trade banter. Other ducks are crammed into holding pens to await their force-feedings.
The pictures were released by a Montreal animal-rights group yesterday in order to head into uncharted territory: Taking the anti-foie-gras movement into the foie gras capital of Canada.
Global Action Network says it infiltrated a major Quebec foie gras producer to expose what it considers the cruel and inhumane treatment of ducks. The secretly shot images are the centrepiece of a campaign that will also send protesters to distribute leaflets outside supermarkets and picket in front of chi-chi eateries that feature foie gras on the menu.
"These images reveal the inherent cruelty involved in the production of foie gras," said Andrew Plumbly, director of Global Action Network. "Our hope is that once consumers see what actually happens in foie gras production, they will stop consuming it."
Animal-welfare groups have been making inroads around the world trying to stop the production of foie gras, which is made by force-feeding grain to ducks and geese several times a day through a pipe inserted into their throats. In the United States, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck banned it from his menus and the city of Chicago voted to outlaw its sale.
But connoisseurs say the anti-foie-gras movement will face resistance in Quebec, where the delicacy is much appreciated - whether sautéed, pan-seared or as a pâté - and available everywhere from groceries to fine-dining haunts.
"Sometimes these [animal-rights]groups go too far. One mustn't exaggerate," said Richard Frelat, manager of the Claude et Henri butcher shop at Montreal's Atwater Market. He regularly sells $189-a-kilogram "foie gras torchon," along with a dozen other varieties, to loyal foodies.
Quebec produces about 8,500 duck livers a week and is the centre of production in Canada. Mr. Frelat says he often gets customers from California, which has decided to ban the production and sale of foie gras starting in 2012.
Global Action Network teamed up in its undercover operation with Farm Sanctuary, a U.S. animal-protection group. Mr. Plumbly says an activist got a job at Élevages Périgord southwest of Montreal, the largest duck foie gras producer in Canada, and worked undercover for three months from last fall to early this year. In all, Global Action Network says it filmed nearly 100 hours of video inside the facility, whose representatives did not return phone calls from The Globe and Mail seeking comment.
Globe Action Network forwarded the video to the provincial police and filed a formal complaint. A police spokesman said it is investigating to see if federal animal-cruelty laws were broken.