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April 11, 2012

Force-Feeding Ducks for Foie Gras is Unconscionable Cruelty

California lawmakers conducted a serious-minded debate about farm animal welfare in 2004, passing a bill to phase out the cruel force-feeding of ducks and the sale of foie gras, or “fatty liver,” if it comes from that inhumane process. The state’s major foie gras producer, Guillermo Gonzales of Sonoma Foie Gras, agreed to the seven-year phase-out and urged then-Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign the bill. The law takes effect this July.

Ducks at a California foie gras facility, Sonoma Foie Gras
Photo by Animal Protection & Rescue League
Force-fed ducks at Sonoma Foie Gras in Calif.

Now, Gonzalez appears to be reneging on his commitment. He’s advocating an override of the law. And he’s been joined by some chefs who think it’s their right to sell foie gras, since they consider it to be such a rich and tasty product. They’ve hired some prominent lobbyists to try to overturn, weaken, or delay the law.

But my guess is they are going to run into a gag reflex from lawmakers. After all, four years after this landmark legislative achievement for ducks, California voters overwhelming passed Prop 2 to phase out the extreme confinement of animals on factory farms. Among other things, Prop 2 put to rest any notion that Californians only care about cruelty to pets and wildlife. With nearly two-thirds of voters favoring Prop 2, it established beyond any doubt that Californians want to see all animals treated well, including animals raised for food.

Wolfgang Puck—perhaps California’s most famous chef—recently sent a letter to 5,000 fine dining restaurants in the state urging them to comply with the law. Wolfgang stopped selling foie gras in 2007 after working with The HSUS to adopt a comprehensive animal welfare program. Here’s a man who keeps his word.

And yesterday, the lawmaker who authored the 2004 bill, John Burton―who at the time was the Senate leader―dissected the arguments of foie gras enthusiasts in a column in the Los Angeles Times, reminding lawmakers of the tremendous anti-cruelty sentiment that lives in the hearts of so many Californians.

Our dear friend Doris Day, who lives on the Central Coast of California, also issued a letter addressed to state legislators on Monday to the same effect.

Common sense should be sufficient to tell us that it’s inhumane to force-feed birds three times a day for weeks on end simply to induce a state of disease in their livers, the final product ultimately marketed as a “delicacy.” But the science is clear, too. The force-feeding causes the animals’ livers to swell more than ten times their normal size and makes it difficult for the animals even to walk.

As Burton notes, “most people would find it hard to stomach eating any part of a diseased animal, but in the case of foie gras, it's the diseased organ itself on which consumers dine.”

The cries of protest from some chefs―who claim that lawmakers and animal advocates should get serious and attend to more important matters―reminds me of Matthew Scully’s line in his book Dominion, wondering how “a man rising in angry defense of a table treat has any business telling other people to get serious.”

As Burton said in his piece yesterday, “We don't need to re-debate the cruelty of force-feeding. For the sake of animals and the Californians who care about them, we should simply celebrate that the 7 1/2 years of waiting is almost over.”

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