As the July 1 ban on California’s foie gras — the Gascony-region delicacy of liver from force-fed ducks and geese — nears, some are spending their time stockpiling the expensive treat while others, notably animal rights activists, are celebrating.
But the celebration is in vain: The ban simply stands as a prime example of a hollow victory, the result of bullying and pressure from activists and politicians against a small industry that flaunts higher standards than most of America’s meat and dairy producers.
The ban, signed in 2004 but with a seven-and-half-year implementation delay, restricts the sale of any product derived from the force-feeding of birds to enlarge their livers, which is the most common way to produce foie gras. In most cases, the birds are hand-fed using a funnel system that drops around a cup of food through a long tube inserted in the bird’s throat.
The trouble lies in the fact that foie opponents view it as a cruel product, the result of abuse toward fowl. But the ban has been fueled largely by ignorance and hilariously misguided priorities more than anything else. Former state Sen. John Burton, author of the ban, appears to be a textbook sensational activist, especially in the insidious viciousness of his public lobbying.
“I’d like to sit [them] down and have duck and goose fat — better yet, dry oatmeal — shoved down their throats over and over and over again,” Burton has said of chef supporters of foie gras.
And therein lies a problem: People simply don’t seem to understand that you can’t compare birds and humans. Opponents have shown a nasty knack of anthropomorphizing ducks and geese to make the feeding process seem worse than it is. This emotional argument conveniently ignores the fact that birds don’t have the same physiology as humans, especially with their esophaguses.
In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association House of Delegates investigated foie gras farms and practices in 2004 and 2005 and found that the conditions of the animals were better than normally found at factory farms for chickens and other livestock. “The observations and practical experience shared by [House of Delegates] members indicate a minimum of adverse effects on the birds involved,” reads an AVMA statement.
The opposition also ignores that the vast majority of foie gras buyers are chefs, many of whom have stringent personal standards and source only humanely raised products. “A happy animal is a tasty animal,” chef, writer and TV personality Anthony Bourdain has said, noting that no self-respecting chef would buy the product of truly abused and diseased animals.
More than anything, the “victory” against foie gras shows activists’ commitment to battling a small industry that can’t afford the political and cultural advantages of massive dairy and meat corporations.
Food expert Michael Pollan says it best: “I think it’s really a way for people to feel like they’ve done something without doing anything,” he said to The New York Times. “There’s so many more serious problems we’re not dealing with.”
In the end, the issue isn’t about being able to eat a piece of duck liver — it’s about a disingenuous war waged on the right of the foie gras industry to exist, common sense and priorities be damned.
Eddie Kim is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and editorial director for the Summer Trojan.