By this time next year, foie gras production in the state of California will be banned. But everywhere else in the United States, it will still be perfectly legal for farmers to force-feed an animal corn mash through a metal pipe and into her/his esophagus with a pump. That is, if the animal is a duck. If one did something remotely similar to a dog or cat, they would likely be charged with violating animal cruelty laws, and face widespread public condemnation.
Foie gras, French for "fatty liver", is a dish consisting primarily of fattened duck liver. Production involves holding a duck by the neck, thrusting a 20-30 cm (8-12 in) pipe down the bird's throat, and initiating the food pumping process. After the liver expands significantly over about 2 weeks, the bird is slaughtered.
Foie gras is not widely popular in the U.S. One Zogby poll (pdf) found that 77 percent of adults in the US believe the process of force-feeding ducks to produce foie gras should be banned. Stores such as Target, Safeway, Costco, Giant Eagle, and Whole Foods refuse to sell it.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG), one of the largest foie gras producers in the U.S., has been working with animal welfare consultant Temple Grandin to make improvements at its facility. In 2009, a writer for the Village Voice ventured to HFVG and returned with an overall sense that the animals were being treated well (photos here). In 2010, a federal court in Manhattan found HVFG guilty of polluting nearby waterways with slaughter waste.
Beyond U.S. borders, foie gras bans, or bans on force-feeding, have been widespread, impacting the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Argentina.
The countries that do produce foie gras often have poor animal rights records. For example, Farm Sanctuary and Global Action Network investigated Elevages Perigord, Canada's largest foie gras production facility, and found widespread abuse.
"It’s basically this perfect storm of factors," says Mark Caro, author of “The Foie Gras Wars”, who succinctly sums up the foie gras controversy: "It’s a duck and people like ducks; it's sticking a metal tube down the throat, which most people think is awful; it's making their livers expand and eating liver, which people think is gross; it's a French delicacy and most people think it's foreign; and it's expensive."
California's foie gras ban, while it does save lives and raise awareness, may not actually stop those who enjoy the dish from eating it. Some chefs in the state are already thinking up ways to evade the ban, such as by slightly tweaking and renaming the fattened duck liver something else. Still, regardless of how effective bans may be, it's nice something is being done about this disgusting practice.
Photo credit: Farm Sanctuary