There is no place in animal-friendly, environmentally aware Asheville for foie gras, yet it can be found at a number of eateries around town. It’s high time that Asheville and the rest of the world followed California’s lead, embraced the golden rule and banned this cruel delicacy.
In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that prohibited force-feeding ducks, geese and any other birds and selling any resulting products. Given until this year to come up with a less inhumane way to make foie gras, Golden State producers offered no alternatives, and the law took effect July 1.
Foie gras (which means “fatty liver” in French), is produced by force-feeding geese and ducks grain mixed with fat through a metal tube that’s jammed down their throats. This happens three or four times per day until they’re slaughtered when they’re less than 20 weeks old. Known as “gavage,” this practice could more accurately called “savage”: There is simply no place in a civilized society for terrorizing any animal!
According to The Humane Society of the United States, force-feeding can cause bruises, lacerations and sores, and the birds’ livers swell to as much as 10 times their normal size. Toward the end of their brief lives, these distressed, physically assaulted creatures have difficulty breathing or walking due to their diseased, enlarged livers.
“The liver is there to clean out toxins from the bloodstream,” California-based avian veterinarian Laurie Siperstein Cook explains. “If the liver can’t work properly, you’ve got all these toxins flowing through the blood, making them feel bad in various ways; it can harm various organs as well as the brain.” In medical parlance, the liver is in a state of “hepatic lipidosis,” meaning it can no longer function properly.
In fact, the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division has recommended that specialty-foods purveyor D’Artagnan Inc. discontinue certain promotional claims concerning its foie gras — principally that “the liver is not diseased, simply enlarged” and that “animals are hand-raised with tender care under the strictest animal-care standards.”
Meanwhile, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require that foie gras packaging include this warning: “NOTICE: Foie gras products are derived from diseased birds.”
Defenders of gavage argue that since geese and ducks have no gag reflex, they feel no pain or discomfort from force-feeding. Because birds store up calories to migrate, they claim, gavage is not abusive. I wholly disagree.
During gavage, these sentient animals — who live their entire lives in cages or small indoor pens — are grabbed, held by the throat and force-fed corn and fat. Many die from puncture wounds caused by the feeding tube, from liver ailments or from suffocation induced by force-feeding.
At least two of the Asheville restaurants that sell foie gras pride themselves on offering farm-to-table dining and being environmentally friendly, yet in fact, this menu item is neither of those things. It comes from Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, N.Y., the largest U.S. producer. In 2010, a federal court ruled in favor of The Humane Society of the United States in a lawsuit charging Hudson Valley with multiple Clean Water Act violations.
“The facility has flouted federal pollution laws for years, and we are delighted to see justice done for the environment, animals and local residents, who have all suffered at the hands of this factory farm,” Humane Society spokesman Jonathan Lovvom declared. D’Artagnan sells Hudson Valley foie gras.
For a number of reasons, foie gras should be banned worldwide. And here in Asheville, a city that prides itself on forward thinking , I’m incredulous and deeply disturbed that foie gras is still available for sale.
Many vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike agree that foie gras is cruelly produced, environmentally devastating, unhealthy and obviously not local. Please join me in boycotting local restaurants that serve foie gras and urging City Council members to approve a citywide ban of this so-called delicacy.
Asheville resident Joe Walsh is an executive recruiter and animal lover.