Media Coverage: Patch

Duck Farmers Quacking Mad Over NYC Foie Gras Ban

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A proposal to ban sales of the delicacy in NYC could close two upstate farms and kill hundreds of jobs, opponents of the bill say.

NEW YORK — A proposal to ban New York City restaurants from serving foie gras has upstate duck farmers quacking mad.

The City Council bill could shutter two Hudson Valley farms that produce the French delicacy and put hundreds of people — many of them immigrants — out of work, opponents of the measure say.

More than 100 farm workers and others swarmed the steps of City Hall Thursday for a rally where they slammed lawmakers — including Council Member Carlina Rivera, the bill’s main sponsor — for refusing to visit the farms that their legislation threatens.

“Take your fake pictures off and come see us,” said an irate Sergio Saravia, the president of LaBelle Farms who came to the United States from El Salvador during that country’s civil war. “… We are not what you portray, and we will not stand for this.”

“I was born into war. If you want a foie gras war, you’ll have it,” Saravia added.

Saravia’s farm and Hudson Valley Foie Gras, both in Sullivan County, say they collectively employ about 400 people and produce about 80 percent of the nation’s foie gras, a spread made from the livers of fattened, force-fed ducks.

Rivera’s bill poses an existential threat to the farms because it would shut them out of the crucial New York City market, farmers said. LaBelle makes about a third of its sales to distributors in the city, according to Saravia.

Rivera called foie gras a “luxury item” in February when she introduced the bill that would make it illegal to sell foie gras in the city. Anyone caught doing so could face a penalty of up to $1,000 and a year in jail.

But duck farmers called it a misguided attack on a small industry that has provided critical opportunties to many immigrant workers. Lawmakers have also impugned their methods as unsafe and inhumane even though they have no first-hand knowledge of how they work, farmers argued.

“Picking on duck foie gras, which is the low hanging fruit of the animal farming industry is nothing better than the normal, egregious bullying of the misunderstood,” said Jenny Chamberlain, the chef and general manager at Hudson Valley Foie Gras, who called the proposed ban “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

Animal-rights advocates argue the production of foie gras is needlessly cruel to the animals who are force-fed with tubes shoved down their throats. One investigation of Hudson Valley Foie Gras found that one worker is expected to feed 500 birds three times a day and that many birds died from ruptured organs, according to Voters for Animal Rights, a group supporting the ban.

But farmers said they are regularly inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The farms kill fewer animals in a year than some huge factory farms process in a day, according to Chamberlain.

“The effort to ban foie gras from the criticial New York City market strikes me as far more cruel than anything supposedly being done to the ducks at farms in Sullivan County,” said Luis Alvarez, the chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature.

Rivera is still determined to pass the bill but does not plan to go on an arranged tour of a farm, said her communications director, Jeremy Unger.

The lawmaker has concerns about the “validity” of the tours that Hudson Valley Foie Gras offers, as several advocates have said they do not reflect the real methods used to produce the delicacy, Unger said.

“As a lifelong advocate for animal rights, Council Member Rivera continues to push for the passage of this common sense bill that will end the force feeding of animals, an exceptionally cruel and inhumane practice that has been banned in wide number of countries, states, and municipalities around the globe,” Unger said in a statement.