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LA Times - A reason to duck the foie gras


They talk about the health demerits of eating foie. They fed lab mice a bunch of the bad stuff (fibrils) from foie and found that it led to, surprise, a buildup of fibrils in the mice' internal organs.

Personally, I think it's rendered moot considering that California is about to ban it outright in 2008 (and is already banned at Spago) and also, it doesn't talk about the proportion of fibril ingestion to body mass. Foie is prohibitively expensive to eat in large quantities, so I wonder if the research found any effect on the amount given relative to a mouse's size.

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  1. I volunteer for the test for impact on humans. I mean, in the inerest of science and all.

    3 Replies
      1. re: evilcatfish

        Third in line...does that include a trip to France?

        1. re: justagthing

          Fourth! Can I fourth? does that exist?

    1. I haven't been able to dig up the original article (contrary to the LAT article, it's not in this week's PNAS) but I have read interviews with the lead investigator. He says that the mice were genetically modified to be susceptible to amyloidosis and was quoted as saying "eating foie gras probably won't cause a disease in someone who isn't genetically predisposed to it". The mice were not fed foie gras but fibrils extracted from foie gras.

      I'm going to keep on eating it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PorkButt

        i will run to whatever lab wants to do a clinical trial on foie gras... i will do it for free or consider bribes. It is interesting how the media extrapolates the journal articles.

      2. This study means...nothing.

        Fibrils are little strands of misfolded proteins that can, but don't always, cause amyloids. The fibrils from foie gras produced amyloids "in mice prone to develop AA amyloidosis." Read the study, conducted by The University of Tennessee, on its website at http://www.utk.edu/news/article.php?i....

        That's analogous to saying that butter causes arterial plaque in someone who has a propensity to developing heart disease. Rather ridiculous.

        The actual study also said, conveniently left out by the LA Times writer, that "Eating foie gras probably won't cause a disease in someone who isn't [already] genetically predisposed to [that disease]."

        3 Replies
        1. re: maria lorraine

          Well put...we can cause pretty much any disease in a mouse as well as cure most cancers. I dislike the media interpretations of animal studies that do not explain the dose equivalents and the animal model. It would be too boring.
          The ban would be quite sad. At my favorite restaurant I have to ask the chef if foie gras is available. He often will not list it on the menu given the backlash.
          I enjoyed Rick Steves description of the French paradox and foie gras in his France guidebook.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            The PNAS article is now up. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstr...

            Don't have the time to read through it yet, but if I'm bored I might try to extrapolate how much foie gras over what period of time that a human is engineered to be highly prone to amyloidosis would have to eat to reproduce this study.

            1. re: PorkButt

              this will be fun reading..i just downloaded the article. we know the dose but not relative percentage of

          2. I don't think any one has ever seriously touted foie gras as a health food. It has an 85 percent fat content.

            1. The California ban doesn't go into effect until 2012.

              10 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Oh thank goodness, maybe someone will smarten up and get rid of it all together.

                  1. re: justagthing

                    The legislators chose 2012 so that they'd all be term-limits'd out before it went into effect, so whoever's in office in 2011 might think better of it.

                    If not, I'm opening a store in Nevada.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      It's also possible that the new Spanish method of Free Range Foie Gras will be deemed acceptable.

                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                        Here's a link for those who aren't aware of the exploits of Pateria de Sousa, the company producing free range pate.


                        1. re: SauceSupreme

                          Not interested in fisticuffs here, but I read this article and don't understand your use of the word "exploits." Please explain. There's no "la gavage" or force-feeding. My understanding is that the geese, at a critical stage before migrating, fatten themselves for the long journey, similar to carb loading before running a marathon.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            I used exploits as a way to say that their activites, while entirely humane, is taking advantage of the stuffiness of French chefs who claim that it's "not real foie gras".

                            1. re: SauceSupreme

                              Slaughtering them doesn't seem entirely humane to me.

                          2. re: SauceSupreme

                            The most astute comment in that article is from the importer of conventional French foie gras: "These people have such preconceived ideas that they often don't know the full process involved. Battery chickens have an absolutely horrific life, while foie gras is a natural product."

                            On good farms, like La Ferme des Veyssières, which I visited earlier this month, the geese have a better life than 99.99% of the poultry on the market. Banning artisnal foie gras while leaving Tyson chicken legal ... it's preposterous.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Agreed. As someone who grew up in the US countryside (and slaughtered, much to parental disgusts) poultry, pork, lamb, deer, etc and that as a 12 yo onward child (w/ rabbits and dogs as pets) I have no issue in the food I eat. Grow up America. I love Duck confit and a natural goose liver (properly prepared) and as a child I could differentiate between my godfather's coniglio cacciatore and my pet rabbit (who I had for 7 years)

                  2. They (one reporter) didn't do some huge investigation with the full power of the newsroom behind them. This is one person cranking out multiple stories a week. They, like may reporters, glob onto a report here, a study there, and crank out a few paragraphs of material to fill a regular column.

                    I'm not bashing you. I'm just saying, "don't give it too much weight." The LA Times, NY Times and others will, now and again, pick a topic and throw an amazing amount of talent and resources to investigate and report the whole story.

                    I'm certain that didn't happen here. My point in all of this is that a single story from a sole reporter at major news outlet doesn't mean the whole news company endorses the story. It might even be the case that a local college intern for your neighborhood weekly paper cranks out a much better piece and doesn't even know it.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: tastyjon

                      Doesn't it go a bit deeper than that, to basic journalism ethics?

                      This writer didn't *understand* the basic gist of the medical study and its meager implications: the study didn't even involve foie gras (only the fibrils were used, not any foie gras itself). That's a question of comprehension and judgment.

                      She left out the most critical quote of the study: that fibrils/amyloids (not foie gras!) probably won't cause a disease in a human who isn't genetically predisposed to that disease already.

                      That's enough of a serious omission to slant the story in a biased way -- so that the implication is that there is a medical issue in eating foie gras in addition to the issue for some of force-feeding. (Not even considering fat content for the moment.)

                      That type of writing is not accurate, implies a truth that is not truth, not complete (critical info was left out) and not fair -- to the study, to foie gras eaters and producers, and to readers.

                      This is also grandstanding: she took advantage of the hot-button "foie gras controversy" to give her story play and interest. Bottom line: The study wasn't newsworthy.

                      Sounds like I'm up in arms...I'm not. But this story...this little story...this single reporter, Chelsea Martinez, created a wave of disinformation.

                      I fault the writer, and I fault her editor for his headline that skewed the story ("A reason to duck the foie gras") and for not checking Martinez's support information. I certainly give both the opportunity to do better in the future.

                      1. re: maria lorraine


                        Not sure where this lies on the continuum of journalistic ethics, but I'm the author of the LA Times article, and I thought since it generated a lot of comments here, I'd reply.

                        I love chowhound, but I don't consider myself a "foodie" (or whatever) and have never had foie gras. What I am is a science writer for the Health section of the Times and a graduate student in the middle of a Biochemistry Ph.D program.

                        The piece about foie gras was actually the first thing I ever wrote for the Times, and perhaps, in that respect, it was naive. But, as a scientist, I rankle at the idea that the story isn't newsworthy simply because it doesn't conclude you're going to die from eating fattened duck liver.

                        It appeared in a web-only column called “Booster Shots” whose description is “Health-related trivia, offbeat news and sometimes-puzzling research.” The foie gras paper, I felt, fit that description, which is why my editor and I selected it. It did not appear in the print version of the Times Health Section, and if you read other Booster Shots you’ll find that many of them are glib, but they often present research which otherwise does not get a lot of press.

                        I was personally interested in the story because the field of prion and amyloid proteins, and protein misfolding in general, is quite large and receives a lot of money from the government, and I feel like people should hear about it. It caught my interest because amyloids (like those in foie gras) have never demonstrated this “infective” behavior like mad cow prions have, and I thought it was interesting that simply by fattening a liver, you can cause these harmful proteins to form.

                        Perhaps giving the article press at all gives it “more attention than it deserves” especially if you’re not familiar with the tone of the column. The article does state that it only happens in mice, and that they were fed fibrils from foie gras, not whole foie gras. But it still came from foie gras, and I can assure you that even though these mice are predisposed to developing amyloid disease, that’s why scientists have controls - to show that without the foie gras fibrils, despite still being predisposed, they did not get sick!

                        As a final note, although these mice were genetically engineered, what “predisposes” humans to amyloid diseases and how common this predisposition is are not well understood. I apologize for any anti-foie gras slant or alarmist tone, some of which were copy editing decisions but some of which were from my attempt to fit the style of the column. I’d be really happy to hear any more comments from you all here on chowhound or at Chelsea.martinez@latimes.com

                        1. re: Chelsea Martinez

                          Was any useful data on protein folding gained from the study? It seems like that was probably more the point than telling people if they eat a pound per day of foie gras that they'll get sick (or whatever the weight equivalent would be).

                          Heck, if someone ate a pound of butter every day, he'd probably get sick too. Not as interesting to research as learning about prion formation and possibly how mad cow disease develops in humans - or amyloid plaque formation, if that was the case.

                          1. re: Chelsea Martinez

                            I'm finding it fascinating, because my father has amyloidosis and later developed Parkinson's (also an amyloid). Other diseases that are amyloids include Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetics and RA. In other words, you may be genetically predisposed to the disease without even realizing it. Those diseases aren't exactly rare.

                            The big question for me is do you have to be predisposed to amyloidosis itself , or is a predisposition to one of these other diseases is a factor?

                            I'm not anti-foie gras, but given my family history, I'm not sure I want to eat tons of it. Good thing I don't have the opportunity to eat much of it, huh?!