Matters of Taste
They're quacking up the wrong tree
Well, I see the animal rights activists are barking and braying anew. And this time, they've won at least a temporary victory in their frenzied efforts to turn us all into broccoli-nibbling, kale-chomping vegans.
Last week, a committee of the California Senate voted 4 to 3 to ban the sale of any foie gras produced by force-fed ducks a process the animal rights folks consider cruel in the extreme.
I'd be surprised if the bill ultimately becomes law, but even if it does, it would not take effect for seven and a half years. That's supposed to give Sonoma Foie Gras, the only farm in the state that specializes in foie gras, time to retool its business.
I sure hope everyone comes to his senses and the state abandons this ridiculous excursion into political correctness long before then.
Animal rights activists oppose foie gras because they say the force-feeding of ducks to make their livers eight to 10 times the normal size amounts to torture.
Oh, spare me.
I've never been to Sonoma Foie Gras, but I've spoken with several experts who have, and they've confirmed what I saw at a force-feeding of ducks in France. When done properly which they all say Sonoma Foie Gras does the process is not cruel, and the ducks do not suffer.
Most animal rights advocates are well-intentioned people. But many pursue their agenda with a misguided fanaticism that makes even the anti-abortion movement look positively passive. I mean, we're not talking about child abuse here. We're not even talking about pet abuse. There's a huge difference between pets and livestock. Pets are raised to be loved and cared for. Livestock is raised to be killed and eaten. The ducks in question are specifically bred and fed to yield foie gras.
"I've visited Sonoma Foie Gras dozens of times since they started 18 years ago," Francine Bradley, poultry specialist in the animal science department at UC Davis, told me last week, "and I've never seen any indication of cruel treatment of ducks."
The ducks are force-fed twice a day during the last two weeks of their lives. Each feeding takes two to four seconds, during which time precisely measured amounts of fresh corn or cornmeal are given to them through a stainless steel tube that's inserted into the duck's esophagus.
Contrary to what animal rights activists say, "the tube does not cause damage to the esophagus or cause food to go into the respiratory area or make ducks regurgitate their food," Bradley says. "The tube is specially designed for the anatomy of this kind of duck's esophagus and upper digestive system."
Bradley, chef Ken Frank at La Toque restaurant in Rutherford and Dr. Jeanne Smith, a Placerville veterinarian who specializes in birds, all told me they had seen no signs that ducks at Sonoma Foie Gras suffer from the forced feeding.
"The birds don't do any struggling when being fed," Smith said. "The operator picks each one up, holds him between his legs, inserts the tube, feeds him quickly and puts him down. As soon as they're let go, they act perfectly normal. They shake their tails and flash their wings like any normal duck."
How about the argument that overfeeding the ducks and fattening their livers makes them so heavy that they turn lame and can't walk and kills them prematurely?
"Of the 4,050 ducks I saw there on my visits, only 0.27% showed difficulty standing or walking," Dr. Smith says. "That percentage is way lower than I see when I treat backyard ducks in my practice."
As for mortality, Guillermo Gonzalez, president of Sonoma Foie Gras, says only 2.38% of his ducks died during the force-feeding period last year; that compares with a mortality rate of 3.8% among chickens raised for food in France in 2002, according to the only study I've seen on the matter.
"The potential for abuse in force-feeding exists," Frank says, "but it just doesn't happen at Sonoma Foie Gras. They're going after the wrong guy. I would have stopped serving foie gras out of disgust long ago if I had not seen for myself that it's a totally acceptable procedure there."
What worries me most about the campaign against foie gras is not that I won't be able to eat it anymore. It's that this campaign is just a convenient starting point for the animal rights activists. They don't think any animals should be used for any food, and I'm not ready never will be ready to give up steaks, lamb chops, roast chicken, veal chops or anything else just because a bunch of fanatics want to suck on celery sticks and make goo-goo eyes over farm animals.
David Shaw can be reached at [email protected]
now we can all be lazy