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November 27, 2006



It is true that the ducks raised for foie gras are in general treated better than the average food animal. However, they are (in my opinion) in a diseased state. There are a handful of scientific studies which document the changes seen in birds undergoing gavage. The fact that the liver changes are reversible in no way means that the ducks are not put into a severe state of disease. As an example, any reasonably healthy human being can expect to make a full recovery from the flu, even without any medical intervention. But the flu is still very much a disease, and nobody would argue that deliberately infecting a population with the flu for no good reason isn't unethical.

While the process of fatty liver infiltration is physiologic in migratory birds, the degree to which the foie gras birds develop hepatic steatotis is far beyond natural. These birds have difficulty walking, let alone flying. Furthermore, the ducks used for foie gras are a sterile cross between the Muscovy (non-migratory) and the Mallard (some populations migratory, others non-migratory). They are therefore an unnatural and predominantly non-migratory breed, so to suggest that these birds are simply exhibiting a natural adaptation of migratory birds is disingenuous at best.

The AVMA is not known for blazing the trail on animal welfare issues, particulary in food animals. Among the food animal practices that the AVMA has explicitly approved are beak trimming, battery cages, induced molting, tail docking of lambs and swine, and, implicitly, veal crates. I should say that I am a fourth-year vet student who is a member of the Student AVMA and plan on joining the AVMA when I graduate, so this is not some rant against an evil organization. The AVMA has actually refused to take a stance either for or against foie gras, which is a little different from actually finding it acceptable (which is what Ariane's letter seems to suggest). In the same news release in which the AVMA states its decision to reject the anti-foie gras proposition is this commentary from Dr. Thomas Munschauer, the Vermont delegate who visited farms (and found that the ducks are humanely treated):

"'Now, let me say what I think—it is not a good use of these animals,' Dr. Munschauer said. Even if they are treated in a reasonable way from a factory-farming standpoint, he said, the production of foie gras induces disease. Veterinarians may condone the induction of disease in animals for research to learn how tumors are formed, for example, because that benefits society. Inducing disease to produce a food delicacy does not benefit society, he said."

For anyone who has bothered to read all this drivel I've just written, I do want to say that I am a meat eater and anti-PETA. I choose not to eat foie gras, but I do think the banning and the hoopla are kind of ridiculous. However, my basic point is that anyone who wishes to argue against foie gras from an animal welfare perspective does have some solid ground to stand on. There are of course many much worse practices (battery cages, feedlots, veal crates, etc.), but that's not really the point.


What about chickens? After they sever the beaks so they don't peck each other, do you think this is a humane way to treat a bird?
I doubt any American would give up chicken for any reason.
It's not as if every person in this country eats foie gras. They are busy eating chicken.


H is correct: for economic reasons, America will not, and cannot, give up industrially-raised chicken at this point in time. And while the egregious inhumanity of industrial chicken (and cattle) practices is "not really the point," it is impossible to ignore in light of the tremendous energies being poured into the anti foie movement. Wouldn't these energies be better applied to practices that are harming not only the animals, but the environment, resources, and humans with whom they are inextricably intertwined?


Jeffry Steingarten's "stuffed animals" available online at mensvogue.com


is good reading. Here's a bit of what he wrote about the American Veterinary Medical Association decision.

"One opponent of tube-feeding who had made the farm visit conceded that the birds were not in distress or pain, that, although obese, they could still walk, and that they were better cared for than most chickens raised for food. But he still concluded that this was 'not a good use of these animals.'"

Steingarten concludes his article by writing "Well, there it is. The scientific evidence is pretty much unanimous in not condemning foie gras, but the evidence is still limited. So, though it seems unnecessary to stop eating foie gras altogether, the data is not unambiguous enough to encourage unbridled gorging. For now, the most sensible policy is to eat just a little of this sublime and ancient delicacy. Which is what most of us are doing already."

I don't quite get his conclusion. If it's alright to eat some foie gras, it should be alright to eat as much as you want. One of the most telling aspects of the article was that scientists could find no evidence of stress in the ducks resulting from gavage, or what we choose to call "force feeding" in English. "

On the subject of disease, Steingarten wrote that "[Daniel] Guémené's group [INRA, the prestigious French Institute for Agricultural Research] confirmed that although a grossly fattened liver is not natural, it is not a sign of disease; after feeding is stopped and the liver shrinks, there is no necrosis—no liver cells have been killed." The flu, which, I understand involves an invasion of foreign bodies in our system, doesn't seem analagous. Of course it's possible to condemn practices which harm an animal or human, but do not cause disease. We just need to keep the discourse as objective as possible. Part of my problem with the AVMA testimony (Dr. Munschauer's?) is that the objective stuff doesn't seem to justify the subjective reaction and I suspect that too affected the association's decision not to take a stance.

I am personally pleased that the crisis was averted and should note that as a constituent of his, I called Council Member Gerson to register my displeasure at his intended proposal. I don't expect I'm the only one who called although he said he now intended to invstigate the matter further, as I suggested in a follow up e-mail, as a result of a call to his office.


Disease, of course, encompasses much more than infection by a foreign organism (or virus). But perhaps a better analogy would be type 2 (formerly adult onset) diabetes. This condition is often reversible with diet and exercise, yet it clearly is a significant disease, especially in the US.

The INRA's conclusion that hepatic steatosis is not a disease due to the lack of necrosis once the liver has healed is spurious. Fatty liver can be induced in an obese cat through several days of anorexia; this is a severe and sometimes fatal condition. If the cat pulls through, they can be expected to make a full recovery, but no veterinarian would claim that it means the cat never had a disease to begin with.

I accept pretty much all arguments pro-foie except for the claim that we are not inducing liver disease. I have yet to hear a plausible argument that we are not, but there is little to no solid scientific evidence one way or the other (and it will probably remain that way, because who is going to fund the studies?). A common credo in the veterinary profession is, "Above all, do no harm." I am far from convinced that these ducks are not being harmed. Of course, we harm the hell out of most pigs, chickens, and cows, and I eat them...


Steve, for the most part, your points are valid and worth considering, if not conclusive. I will also agree that one wrong shouldn't justify another, but perhaps we both agree that we all need to establish priorities even when supporting humane treatment of animals. That of course, assumes a carnivore can ever claim to treat animals humanely. It does appear however, that humans are designed to eat meat, just as cattle are not designed to live on a diet of corn, grain and beef by products.


Other than the usual quotes by Gandhi and Mark Twain about how to measure a society's values by the way it treats animals - having information about how our consumer products are produced is important for an informed consumer society. All sides of a debate should be heard and can be read on the internet. One can say being pro-foie gras is extreme, as well as the views of PETA, which is the poster-child of any extremist argument. PETA has become a negative blanket response to many an animal welfare campaign unfortunately for them but also in trying to understand what is going on. PETA seems to be used to quiet debate. Associate a cause or group with PETA and it is the kiss of death.
No one is arguing that foie gras is being produced outside the law or regulations. A business would be out of business quite soon for ignoring food regulation laws. One can question what these laws say themselves and what one believes should be changed in these laws. Being law biding doesn't necessarily say something good. Laws are often broken and/or reformed to fit with society's changing values. Maintaining tradition is not necessarily good. There are many traditions that are opposed today because by today's standards people can see old traditions as oppressive or irrelevant to today's standards. Examples often used are domestic violence and slavery. It is the perception of the culture at the time and at times there are competing views on the same traditions.
The matter of choice for consumers is also simple. If people became more aware of what the cost is to the animals eaten and the cost to ourselves, perhaps more people will opt to pay more for meat from animals who are treated humanely while they are alive. For many, this free range and medication-free meat may outprice them from eating this kind of meat. Many want to keep the prices as low as they are so they can eat as much as they want. The American diet is after all more meat-focused than many other cultures. But is it the price many would choose to pay if they knew the cost to the animals? Does it matter that these chickens or pigs can't read or write? I think what matters is that they have the capacity to suffer.
Re: Foie gras, I appreciate the comments from the writer who will soon be a vet and member of the AVMA. I found them helpful in contributing to the information out there, other than information from businesses who have a financial stake in the discussion. Who believes in a study saying Lucky Charms cereal is good for you if it is funded by the maker General Mills?
Finally, I don't think the anti-foie gras campaigns should be ignored because the animal welfare issues on the grand scale, those in factory farming (for the cheap meat prices) are not being tackled first. I don't know whether it is a matter of strategy or whatever that foie gras is a current target, but perhaps people should think that a little help somewhere is not something to sneeze at. No one says, don't help the starving people in one group because there is greater starvation in a neighboring country. Wherever compassion can be aided it should. Perhaps a strategic decision that it is simply not feasible to take on the factory farm industry and the culture of wanting meat really cheap makes some take on smaller areas of animal farming like foie gras. After all, there are about a dozen countries that have banned force-feeding practices and those that have interpreted their laws to ban force-feeding, not just California and Chicago, along with the EU which is considering the case of foie gras. The EU already has a ban on veal and gestation crates.
If people have more information, they can decide if they think their moments of pleasure eating are worth the suffering caused to animals.


There is no need for ducks to suffer for the benefit of the handful of people who indulge in foie gras. People say, 'well, what about chicken?' My response to that is that the GENERAL population can afford to buy chicken. It is a food item available to ALL. Foie gras is not. , Can the immigrant farm worker at HVFG, who is shoving a tube down a ducks throat into its stomach even if only for 20 seconds, afford to eat foie gras? NO, yet GOVERNOR PATAKI doled out $420,000.00 of EVERYONE's tax dollars to expand HVFG.. Would our tax payer’s dollars have better served the apple, the garlic, and the lettuce farmers? YES. Come on GUYS, it's not only about animal cruelty (which is bad enough). It's about a handful of wealthy folks (and you know exactly who I'm talking about) making a bundle at the expense and abuse of farm animals. I want to know where the chef is who will stand up against this cruelty and misuse of funds. Where is the NY Charlie Trotter? I know you’re out there and you’re tough, step up to the plate.


A proponent of foie gras? You have to be kidding me. All of your facts are a bunch of smoke and mirrors. You know how un-comfortable it feels when you've eaten too much and you're bloated? Well, imagine at that moment someone shoves a pipe down your throat (a horrific thought in itself) and continued to "force" more food into your already bloated stomach. Is this farming or science fiction?

Now let's examine the fact that the Ducks are being crated so tightly with no ability to move. There are laws popping in every state and around the world against gestation crates and not allowing an animal to freely move.

The studies you sight are the same studies that say animals are treated humanely in American Industrial slaughter houses too. You can estimate that close to 1 out 10 animals are still alive, 10 minutes after they are supposed to be dead, which means they are being cut up alive. You can read more about a report on this here: http://www.hfa.org/hot_topic/usda_petition.html

The process of creating the fatty liver that is foie gras, just like veal cows in gestation crates, is not a method of agriculture, it is plain and simple a form of torture. You don't have to be a radical to think that, just a human being.

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