Sources: ABC and nofoiegras.org
The French delicacy known as foie gras will disappear off California menus and plates Sunday. Restaurants caught serving it can be fined up to $1,000.
Chef Wolfgang Puck sent a letter to 5,000 California restaurants in May to show his support for the law, the only state to do so. The city of Chicago banned foie gras in 2006, reversing the decision two years later.
Foie gras (pronounced ‘fwah grah’) has been exalted in some gourmet food circles as a prized delicacy, but if most people knew how foie gras is produced, they would be horrified.
Foie gras, the French term for “fatty liver,” is the product of extreme animal cruelty. It is the swollen, diseased liver of ducks and geese who are force-fed just up until the point of death before being slaughtered. Birds suffer tremendously, both during and after the force-feeding process, as their physical condition rapidly deteriorates. In just a few weeks, their livers swell up to ten times their normal size, and the birds can scarcely stand, walk, or even breathe. At this point, they are slaughtered, and their livers are peddled as a “gourmet” delicacy.
“Cramming pipes down ducks’ throats is both physically painful and psychologically terrifying for these poor ducks,” Bruce Friedrich, Farm Sanctuary senior director, said on the ASPCA website.
The industry had almost eight years to work on keeping their foie. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill in 2004 that granted farmers a grace period to find alternative ways to produce it. Most of the small farms and shops that the ban affects have already moved out of the state. Chefs looking for a vegan alternative can try faux gras which is made with lentils and walnuts.
Confinement and Cruelty
Today foie gras production is concentrated in France, which produces and consumes roughly 75% of the world’s foie gras. Roughly 24 million ducks and half a million geese are killed annually for France’s foie gras industry. Nearly all of the birds are raised in intensive confinement systems, and all of them endure brutal, intensive force-feeding, several times a day, in the weeks prior to their deaths. Approximately 500,000 ducks are killed annually for foie gras in the United States and in Canada, respectively.
In modern foie gras factory farms, geese and ducks are confined, usually in either small pens or in tiny cages that virtually lock the birds in place. Thus restrained, the birds cannot escape the “feeder” and the mechanized feeding machine. One by one, the feeder grabs each bird and plunges the metal pipe of the feeding machine down the birds’ throat. The machine pumps a huge amount of a corn-and-oil mixture directly into their gullets in just a few seconds, equivalent to one-fourth to one-third of the birds’ own body weight each day.
This brutal treatment is devastating to the health of the birds. In a matter of weeks, their livers swell up to ten times their normal size. Breathing and walking become difficult as the liver pushes against other organs, causing respiratory stress due to decreased air sac space in their lungs, and forcing the legs to move outward at an unnatural angle. Ducks at foie gras farms have been observed panting and struggling to stand, using their wings to push themselves forward when their crippled legs can no longer support them. Struggling to move causes infection-prone open pressure sores to develop and fester on their hocks (legs) and keels (chest area).
In this compromised state, depressed birds can no longer engage in normal preening behaviors, and this is compounded by the fact that they are denied access to water sufficient for them to engage in normal, instinctual behaviors. Their plumage becomes encrusted with filth, and most of them develop what foie gras farmers call “wet neck”-when their unpreened feathers curl up and become coated with dirt and oil.
They also suffer, as do all factory-farmed ducks, from debilling, which is performed ostensibly to prevent them from pecking each other when they are so severely confined. Shortly after birth, the birds’ beaks are cut off, slicing through tissue rich in nerve endings. Debilled poultry suffer from chronic pain for the rest of their lives, often having trouble eating and preening.
The ban in California is set to begin July 1st 2012. The other 49 states have no such law.