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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Animal Rights Groups Ask New York to Ban Foie Gras

Published: June 22, 2006

Published in the NY TIMES, 6/22/06  

"Delicacy of despair," or one of the heights of fine dining?

In a novel legal strategy, animal rights advocates demanded yesterday that state regulators in Albany help decide the fate of foie gras, made from the engorged livers of ducks and geese. It is a buttery but costly staple of four-star restaurants everywhere, especially those in New York City.

Advocates have long criticized the production of foie gras for pâté or another use, calling it cruel to the fowl because they are force-fed, usually with long plastic tubes, for four weeks before slaughter. Their livers grow in size by at least six times.

In a 16-page petition, the Humane Society of the United States and others, including New York residents, asked the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets to use a law ordinarily applied to food like rotten or mislabeled beef.

The groups want foie gras declared an "adulterated" food within the meaning of Article 17, Section 200 of the Agriculture and Markets Law. agriculture commissioner would then have the option of banning foie  gras.

New York State law, in part, defines adulterated food as "diseased, contaminated, filthy, putrid or decomposed."

Carter Dillard, director of farm-animal litigation at the Humane Society, based in Washington, said in a telephone interview that the petition "doesn't speak to whether there's a health risk or not" in foie gras  itself.

"We're going by the letter of the law," he said. "And the weird thing about foie gras is we have three world experts, 10 veterinarians, 4 independent studies and 12 published articles that will tell you this is a diseased product."

Eric Ripert, executive chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin, the acclaimed French restaurant in Manhattan, uttered a long sigh in an interview. "We can criticize how foie gras is produced," he said, "and be concerned about the health of the duck and blah, blah, blah, O.K.,  fine."

But many food processes are cruel, Mr. Ripert said, including the farming of chicken and fish. "To me, it's more cruel to chew on an oyster, which is live, because it must have feelings," he said. "Still, I am not ready to become a vegan."

In California, where vandals have attacked restaurants serving pâté de foie gras and declared it a "delicacy of despair," a 2004 law is set to eliminate the production and sale of foie gras by 2012. In April, the Chicago City Council banned foie gras within city limits. The ban began this month.

New York State is the largest producer of foie gras in North America (France is the world's largest producer). Animal-rights activists have been unsuccessful in persuading the Legislature to ban the sale and production of it.

The Humane Society argues that the production of foie gras results in "hypertrophied livers" that are "pathological," citing, among others, a 1998 study by the European Union Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare.

A spokeswoman for the agriculture department in Albany, Jessica A. Chittenden, said the department had not yet formally received the petition and could not comment on it.

But as an example of one of the most common adulterated food products, she cited misleadingly labeled hamburger that contained added soy or fat. "Rodent-defiled" meat is another example, she said.

Ariane Daguin, owner of D'Artagnan, a leading distributor of foie gras products based in Newark, reviewed the Humane Society's petition after it was e-mailed to her. She said she was familiar with research criticizing foie gras production, including research cited by the society. For example, in one cited study hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver, is not a disease of ducks but of cats, she argued.

"I am infuriated by such research," she said.

Like Ms. Daguin, Michael Ginor, founder of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, in Ferndale, N.Y., argues that engorging the liver is a hastening of a natural process whereby fowl store calories before a long migration. At 7,000 ducks a week, Hudson Valley is the leading producer of foie gras products in North America.

Mr. Ginor likened force-feeding to the treatment of confined cattle, which reach 400 pounds after two years, he said, compared with grass-fed cattle, which reach that weight after four years. He also said that foie gras ducks were 16 weeks old at the time of slaughter, compared with 8 weeks or less for ducks roasted or grilled in  restaurants.

But Mr. Ginor acknowledged that it was unlikely that the liver of a duck in the wild or on a free-range farm, which typically has a liver weighing three ounces, would grow to restaurant-quality levels of 19 ounces or more without force-feeding.

"To me, the issues are, one, are the ducks sick?" Mr. Ginor said. "And the U.S.D.A. looks at every duck pre- and post-mortem, so it's not a diseased product. And, two, can it make people sick? Foie gras has been eaten by people for 5,000 years, and if it caused any disease we'd probably know it by now."

The ancient Greeks mention fattened geese in the fifth century B.C.

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