Sometimes it Hurts When You Duck

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Sometimes it Hurts When You Duck

[Ed. Note: Two videos and a Powerpoint on the brutalities required to produce foie gras: Foie Gras: Delicacy in Despair, Foie Gras Cruelty and Foie Gras Cruelty (en Espanol).]

By Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., The Inner Lives of Animals

In the autumn of 1991 I walked into the office of the owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG). Since opening in 1989, HVFG has become America's largest producer of the fatty duck livers treasured by gourmets and reviled by animal advocates. I wasn’t there to purchase foie gras. I was there on a covert assignment for PETA. I posed as a graduate student interested in obtaining hearts from freshly slaughtered birds as part of a study of hybrid vigor. My “girlfriend,” an experienced undercover investigator, carried a running video camera in her purse. Izzy Yanay, the co-owner of HVFG who had agreed to the tour, kept us waiting for several hours as he did business on his telephone. He must have thought my companion had a weak bladder; several times she had to visit the bathroom to change batteries.

We never made it to the killing floor that day, where we had hoped to film the slaughter of ducks. I still don’t know what that’s like, but other covert investigations have successfully exposed the force-feeding process on these factory farms, in which workers pin the duck between their legs and use a plunger to force food down the duck's throat four or five times a day for a month until their liver is up to ten times its normal size.

HVFG made news last week (May 2010) when a federal court in Manhattan ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by The Humane Society of the United States charging HVFG with violating the Clean Water Act.

Do the birds suffer? Well, duh. Does it matter? My blog is about animals’ inner lives. I want to show that they have them, and that it matters. Frankly, there are not mountains of research on duck behavior or sentience. Nevertheless, 45 minutes browsing my bookshelf turned up the following tidbits:

That is hardly a comprehensive digest of duckdom. But I think it’s enough to reinforce the notion that ducks have lives that matter to them—in case there was any doubt. Is it enough to compel the end of force-feeding them to put their grossly fattened livers in our mouths? In some places, yes. Foie gras is banned in thirteen European countries as well as Israel and South Africa. In the United States, public outcry has begun to filter down to policymakers. Chicago banned the sale of foie gras from restaurants in 2006, then repealed it in 2008. California has banned foie gras as of 2012. Such reforms are still only a pip in foie gras' egg. But like slavery and the denial of votes to women before it, foie gras is vulnerable to exposure as an abomination in civilized society.