Ethical Eating

Hudson Valley Foie Gras: More Humane or Just the Same? (Video)

Foie gras is one food item that people are crazy about. Chefs and foodies tend to love it. Ethical eaters and animal rights activists absolutely hate it. The state of California has even outright banned the sale and production of the delicacy.

In this past week's review of the Grove, we touched upon Hudson Valley Foie Gras--one of the largest producers of foie gras in the country. The farm claims its method of production is more humane than its competitors'.

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The farm, which is open to the public, developed the "Hudson Valley Method" of foie gras farming. They brought in animal behaviorists, veterinarians, and an auditor from the Temple Grandin Institute to evaluate methods for producing foie gras ducks. The overall goal, they say, is to ensure their ducks are being treated humanely.

According to livestock veterinarian Dr. Lawrence W. Bartholf, "We have to remember that humans have a different anatomy than ducks. They don't have a voice-box like we do. They don't have ll of these fine bones in their throat like we do. The only thing that limits what they can swallow, in the case of a duck that is swallowing fish, is the size of their mouth."

Whether the ducks and geese are harmed from the force-feeding or not, animal rights activists assert that any force-feeding is inhumane. Clean Plate Charlie reached out to the Humane Society to see what the organization had to say. In an official statement President and C.E.O. Wayne Pacelle claims, "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."

The science Pacelle refers to comes from a Humane Society report on the welfare of animals in the foie gras industry. According to the report:
In a sworn affidavit before the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, veterinarian Bruce Feldmann described the liver disease of three ducks he examined who were reportedly taken from a California foie gras farm: "[T]hese animals suffered from various diseases, including hepatic lipidosis and possibly hepatic encephalopathy, which were brought on directly by the force feeding process they were subjected to."

When functioning normally, the liver processes fats and filters toxins. Hepatic encephalopathy is damage to the brain caused by toxins in the blood that are not filtered as they would normally be by a healthy liver.

While there are some examples of free-range foie gras, there is little doubt that force-feeding an animal cannot be considered humane: even the actual feeding is not hurting the duck. At the end of the day, it comes to down chefs and consumers as to whether the the product is worth another beings pain. How do you feel about foie gras? Weigh in below.

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Sara Ventiera