The truth about foie gras: A producer says animal-rights advocates have it all wrong
I tasted foie gras for the first time on a warm Thursday evening in September 1983. I remember the wonderful experience vividly, especially since it set me on a journey that led to the founding of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, with my partner Izzy Yanay. We have worked since 1989 to supply this food product, the fattened liver of ducks, for the enjoyment of American diners, produced to the best, and ever-improving, standards of animal care.
Having spent my life working with foie gras and understanding the animal welfare aspects of foie gras farming, I have found the controversy hard to understand. When California considered legislation similar to what is currently proposed by the New York City Council, the California Department of Food and Agriculture provided a confidential report for the governor (which we obtained through freedom of information laws). It concluded that foie gras production is a food production industry well established in conformity with humane management, safe food practices and protective provisions of state and federal law. That is my experience.
If you choose to enjoy foie gras, have every confidence the animals have been properly cared for. Yes, we feed our ducks for about 20 days three times a day with a six-inch rubber tube, at the time in their life corresponding to migration. The process at our farm is as a mother bird feeding her young.
Concern regarding the feeding completely disregards the difference between mammalian and avian physiology. Contrary to the false assertions of animal-rights groups, we do not use individual cages or foot-long metal tubes.
The lining of the throats of waterfowl is tough and durable and not affected by the soft rubber tube we use. In nature, these birds swallow whole fish, crustaceans and rough grasses.
Also, unlike humans, ducks have a complex physiological mechanism that closes the opening to the lungs, useful for feeding in an aquatic environment. Feeding with a tube does not distress the ducks, as farm visitors observe.
Liver enlargement in waterfowl, as explained in every responsible journalistic description of foie gras, is a normal process of storing energy as fat in the liver. The groups currently advocating against foie gras petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to declare foie gras “diseased.” They also filed suit in federal court to compel the USDA to do so.
They were rejected in both cases. Why do they continue to misrepresent foie gras in this manner?
We have opened our doors to unbiased visitors, politicians, journalists, veterinarians, chefs and interested consumers for 15 years. The American Veterinary Medical Society was asked in 2005 to declare foie gras detrimental to animal welfare. They declined. The New York Veterinary Medical Society voted unanimously to direct their representatives to vote against the measure.
Several other states rejected proposed legislation after visits by responsible persons from those states. A representative from the New York City Council visited in 2009 and recommended legislation not be introduced as it had no basis.
Government scientists, independent veterinarians, politicians and chefs who have visited our farm say that foie gras is acceptable animal agriculture.
Foie gras farms in Sullivan County, N.Y., ours included, employ 400 people, many of them the third-generation working at the farms. Many more people benefit from the economic contribution of the farms to the area.
Simply put, a foie gras ban would be a painful hit to an already struggling upstate economy. The farms in Québec, also supplying New York City, provide similar employment and economic benefit.
And consumers in New York City would be introduced to the slippery slope where their local government has made arbitrary decisions for them about what foods they can and cannot consume.
To date, no one from the current City Council has visited a foie gras farm. With everything at stake for the workers and the upstate and Québec economies and the culinary reputation of New York City, I hope politics is not getting in the way of the truth.
Ginor is co-founder, co-owner and president of Hudson Valley Foie Gras and New York State Foie Gras.