Independent Media Coverage by
BY: JOHN MARIANIREAD ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Animal rights activists say duck liver is evil, the by-product of an abusive system. They don’t know what they’re talking about.
The ignorance surrounding the production of foie gras, the fattening of goose and duck livers to produce a sensual delicacy, is utterly absurd. Those animal rights activists and vegans who protest foie gras are completely uninformed, complaining that the birds suffer horribly for the decadent gourmand’s delectation. On their Websites they speak of wretched living conditions on farms, of hordes of sick animals with their little webbed feet nailed to the floor, and of rusty metal tubes shoved down their ulcerated throats as they thrash about in agony. Some reports even speak of “exploding livers.”
The politicians are listening. Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (a man who knows a bit about pumping up with proteins) signed a bill outlawing the production of foie gras in California, unless they can find a way to make foie gras without “too much stress on the animal.” In Chicago, the City Council passed a ban on foie gras, which has become such an embarrassment to the restaurant community that the mayor is considering a legislative repeal. And now, moronic New Jersey legislators are about to make that same mistake, trying to prevent the D’Artagnan company from selling foie gras.
There is, however, not a shred of evidence that the sponsors of such bills have ever visited an American foie gras farm, like Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, N.Y., which supplies D’Artagnan with its liver. Well, I did. And I didn’t see any of this suffering those crazies are screaming on and on about.
Ducks roam inside a barn at Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Photo by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras, whose owners Izzy Yanay and Michael Ginor founded the company in 1989, is located on a huge farm in the Catskills. There, on any given day, you can see thousands of specially bred Moulard ducks roaming freely, wandering outside and inside barns at least the size of a football field. These ducks are not nailed down to the floor, and they do not run in fear from their feeders. When they are to be fattened, about seven birds occupy a wooden pen about the size of the bathroom in an average New York City apartment. They are not crowded in.
(And if you think that I was being given the highly sanitized media tour of the farm, call Izzy Yanay and set up your own visit. He’ll show you his entire operation. Reach him at: Hudson Valley Foie Gras, 80 Brooks Road, Ferndale, NY 12734; Phone: 845-292-2500; firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The gavage process. Photo by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery.
Three times a day — not ten or twenty, as some would have you believe — the feeder comes to the pen, takes a bird by its neck, puts a funnel in its throat and feeds the bird, a process called gavage. The birds do not try to wriggle free, or show any discomfort — the esophagus of the duck is in front of the food tube, so it is impossible to gag them. Ducks also have no teeth, so whole grain goes down their throats without needing to be ground up. It’s a quick process, taking six to eight seconds, less time than you’d need to tie your shoe.
Through the careful use of gavage, duck livers are fattened up to eight times their normal size. While this may seem like an incredible increase, these livers are designed to grow, storing energy ducks need for their seasonal migration south. All told, the fattened foie gras livers are twice as large as the natural process the ducks already engage in, which is why they’re used for foie gras instead of other animals.
Studies prove that fattened birds don’t face any long-term damage from gavage. While touring the farm, I spoke with Dr. Walter K. McCarthy, past president of the New York Veterinary Medical Association. The NYVMA studied ducks that went through the fattening process and then were left alone: Their livers went right back to their normal size, with no damage to the organ at all. His peers are in full agreement. In 2006, the American Veterinary Medical studied foie gras farming practices and recommended that the AVMA oppose anti-foie gras resolutions. Also, a 2004 study in the World’s Poultry Science Journal concluded that the feeding procedure produced neither physiological indicators nor behavioral responses indicating stress.
Ducks raised for foie gras production are treated as well as (and probably better than) most animals in the food chain. (Or at the very least, those factory-farmed chickens found in the aisles at every single supermarket chain.) After all, an unhealthy animal is, obviously, not an animal that can be used for food.
So if you don’t like the taste of foie gras, don’t eat it. But if you do, there’s no need to feel guilty.