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Foie Gras Controversy [moved from Ontario]

I would like to know what Torontonians think of the recent uproar about Foie Gras in North America.

Over the past few years I have read article after article about the “evils” of Foie Gras production and how it should be banned across North America.

Chicago has had a ban in place since April 2006 and California will be banning its production and sale by 2012.

I have trouble understanding how all this energy has been devoted to such a small cause and how many North Americans are jumping on this anti-Foie Gras bandwagon when globally 23,000 tones are produced annually.

In comparison KFC uses 736 million chickens annually which are subjected to a succession of cruelties such as mutilation, crowding, injuries, diseases, debeaking, forced molting, antibiotics, ammonia burn and heat stress.

I feel that Foie Gras does not even register as a mere blip on the global animal cruelty radar and activists should concentrate on far greater cruelty issues.

Lastly I recently read a quote that made me laugh:

“Foie Gras is a diseased product that has no place in the human food supply," (The Humane Society of the United States).

This quote made me laugh given the fact that you can’t buy Foie Gras in Chicago but yet you can get KFC at every street corner, which is of course perfectly fine for human consumption…

Looking forward to a little controversy…
N.B.I also forgot to mention how delicious Foie Gras actually is…

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  1. Your stance is perfectly logical. Aside from the questionable practices prevalent in the fast food industry (not just KFC), take a look at our friends from the sea. Go ban the sale of fish that are endangered, for example. That's a much nobler cause, and a much bigger issue, than a foie gras ban, in my opinion.

    Foie gras is one of the few true delicacies not derived from something endangered. Oh, and it tastes so damn good.

    1. How about cleaning up pork production? The pigs are in small individual pens, in large Ontario barns, with no room to move. All they can do is eat, sleep, and defecate. And the waste goes into a holding pool outside the barn, creating its own problems. But it's a big industry, and carries a lot of lobbying influence.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jayt90

        There's always going to be something, isn't there? I had someone tell me just a couple of weeks ago that I wouldn't be able to serve foie gras anymore at Eaton Hall. I'll be surprised if it goes through.


      2. So, then, if there is always a bigger problem around the corner that trumps the previous problem - then the answer is to do nothing? I know, I know...that's not what you meant.

        My point is, no matter where along the chain of "bad somethings" someone is trying to make something happen...at least they're tying to DO something, rather than nothing.

        If the hook that snags you is foie gras - fine; if it's chicken - fine. Fish, okay. Guns, got it. But what gets to me when we all stand around and try to dictate what IS a problem and what isn't - bc that's just subjective, no? Ah, poo, what do I know....? :)

        1. The claim that foie is diseased is ridiculous. Duck and geese have evolved this capacity to store fat in their livers. They gorge before migration to build up fat reserves. Gorging these birds for the production of foie is no worse ethically than feeding corn to steer to fatten them up, and probably not as bad as the methods used to produce Kobe beef.

          This whole foie gras banning movement is the worst kind of hypocrisy. Banning foie from free range animals and allowing the sale of battery chickens and pigs raised on concrete is complete nonsense and the politicians who support these measures need to explain themselves.

          1. I think the reason this issue has gotten so much attention is that the foie-gras-eating population is, on average, wealthier and better-connected than the KFC-eating population. And yes, I realize there are plenty of individual exceptions -- I'm talking averages. Still, in North America foie gras is a specialty item eaten almost exclusively by people who have plenty of money to spend on food, and also to spend on promoting whatever causes they (okay, we) deem important.

            IMO, there are many more pressing issues in terms of both agricultural policy and animal welfare, so it's not something I pay a whole lot of attention to. The question is, is political effort a zero-sum game? Does effort spent on banning foie gras diminish the effort spent on, say, banning cruel (for the chickens) and unhealthy (for the consumer) chicken farming practices? I'm not sure. You could argue that these efforts raise the profile of treatment of animals in food production, but you could also argue that it gives people an excuse to dismiss the whole issue as something that only matters to "liberal elites."

            1. The neocons that are hot n' bothered about Foie Gras are misguided. It is not cruel, the ducks are not abused or cruelly treated, it is not painful. Their entire argument is quite funny and has no basis in fact. The restaurants in Phila that proudly serve it have seen a tremendous increase in business as a result of being picketed and the increased media coverage that results, "film at eleven!" Their so called "facts" are totally bogus. Sort of like "weapons of mass destruction in Iraq"!

              One restaurant owner was quoted saying he feels he should put the picketers on his payroll!!

              1. It's easier to pick on the little guy than the thousand pound gorilla with deep pockets. Clearly, PETA favors a symbolic victory over a real battle.

                Fortunately, the current bans have no teeth. Foie consumption in Chicago actually went up after the ban, and not a single chef has been cited for serving it. The language of the California law is pretty weak, and it will likely be shot down by the state legislature before 2012.

                Anyone who thinks foie is diseased is simply uninformed. All scientific data on the subject states the opposite.

                Foie ducks live and die in vastly superior conditions than 99.99% of American poultry.

                4 Replies
                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                    Actually, I know of two Chicago restaurants that have been hit with fines for serving foie gras...Hot Doug's and Cyrano's Bistro.

                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                      How did foie gras consumption go up in Chicago? Are more people cooking it at home?

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        I based my statement on an article in the Trib - albeit an outdated one b/c at the time nobody had been fined.

                        Basically, the whole controversy sparked public interest in foie, in addition to a general desire to "stick it to the man." It's the whole "I want what you tell me I can't have" phenomenon. And people could still get it at restaurants, who would call it by another name and basically worked under the assumption that nobody would be penalized.

                    2. Let's start with jfood loves foie and had a wonderful piece the other night. With all the issues facing the food industry and the economy some people have the time to worry about a few ducks? oh boy. It is just one of the silliest things jfood has heard of.

                      1. I don't eat Foie Gras because of the cruelty issues.

                        I don't eat KFC because of the cruelty issues

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Harters

                          I don't eat KFC because of the cruelty issues.

                          I do eat humanely raised and slaughtered meat because of the lack of cruelty issues.

                          I eat foie gras on occasion, because everything I've read indicates that descriptions of cruelty are vastly exaggerated - most foie ducks enjoy a relatively happy and healthy life.

                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                            Maybe I'm from Missouri, but I don't see how spermarket or meat store trays of chicken, pork or beef are any more exempt than KFC. The meat in our markets is not humanely raised, and may be slaughtered just as badly as KFC's.
                            But KFC is one large buyer, more easily attacked.

                            1. re: jayt90

                              They aren't. KFC was just an example. I buy all my meat directly from a Cerfitified Humane rancher.

                              1. re: jayt90

                                I wasn't specifically attacking KFC.

                                Just about all the meat that enters the Harters household is ethically raised (either free-range or organic). It is more difficult to eat ethically in restaurants but I do the best I can, avoiding items that I would be uncomfortable eating. For example, I would not ordinarily order chicken anywhere (whether KFC or Michelin star) if it was not specified to be "ethically raised".

                                But I am looking forward to foie from Spanish producer "Pateria de Sousa" becoming available where I am. I have seen their production methods on TV and there is no force-feeding with birds being slaughtered at a time that they would naturally have larger livers (apparently they naturally eat more prior to migration to build up body fat for the journey).

                          2. Morton said it quite well. Those who choose not to eat it are "free" to do so. Those who do should also be "free" to do so. It's like any other form of censorship....if you don't like what's on tv....you're free to change the channel!!! DO NOT impose your values on me, "for my own good". (as YOU perceive them)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: tudor3522

                              People impose their values on one another all the time; it's part of living together and balancing competing interests. The point about foie gras production is that the people who are out to ban it (and, just to be clear, I am not one of them) think that it's cruel to the birds and thus on animal welfare grounds should be banned. The issue is not whether you eat it, but whether society should permit its production. In answer to that argument, it doesn't make sense to say "if you think it's wrong, don't eat it."

                              Again, to be clear, I'm not arguing with your position, just your reasoning.

                            2. I love fois gras and I don't know how I could live without it. I think there's a major problem with people imposing any form of "animal cruelty" type belief on people. Fois gras aside, these mass produced and mass slaugtered chickens and pigs are cheap. It is very costly to raise a humanely raised pig and thus the cost is transferred over to the consumer. It may be easy for consumers like us, who most likely have enough money to buy these fresh, humane, organic ingredients; but to poorer people, barely making ends means, they have no option. We can't go on pressing people to have solely humanely raised animals (a term that take on different definitions depending on the person), because not everyone has the means to buy these foods. I don't know about you, but I'd rather the poor eat than a chicken to live in a bigger cage.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: digkv

                                I don't buy it.

                                If government subsidies were transferred from factory to humane farming, cost disparities would shrink substantially. Factory farming requires large quantities of subsidized oil and water, and produces many externalities that ought to be taxed. From an economic perspective, humane farming is more efficient, it just requires a larger outlay of human capital. Transferring subsidies from oil to human capital would actually benefit the poorest sector of society - agricultural workers. Humane farming may require more land up front, but it maintains the land more effectively and doesn't require additional land for waste disposal, thus using less land in the long term.

                                If the massive government subsidies on cruelty disappeared overnight, you would be shocked by the spike in supermarket meat prices.

                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                  Morton nails it again.

                                  And anybody who has ever driven through pig country in N.C. can attest to the staggering cost of what we're doing to our planet, our bodies, and perhaps our souls, with factory farming. There's nothing cheap about it at all.

                                  1. re: uptown jimmy

                                    There are more hogs than people in NC, and there are a LOT of people. Anyone that has gotten stuck (roll up the windows!) behind a *Unnamed Company* poultry truck in Wilkes County might have an issue with the treatment of chicken and factory farming. That said, i just can't choke down foie. And I'll even eat liverwurst!

                                    1. re: southernitalian

                                      Oh, obviously. We live near poultry farms and have regularly tried desperately to avoid getting stuck behind one of the tractor trailers carrying the chickens to the slaughterhouse. It's shocking the farm makes no effort ot hide the disgusting reality of how those chickens "live", if that's word for it.

                                      I've actually been inside one of those slaughterhouses. I worked a charity catering event there years ago. Having grown up on a dairy farm, I'm no stranger to the grotesque, but the general conditions inside that poultry processing plant were the most disgusting, most vile, most offensive and revolting thing I've ever seen. I was quite ill for weeks afterward, partly I think out of sheer spiritual horror.

                                      The bottom line is simple: anybody who thinks that the most pressing task in combatting animal cruelty is to halt foie gras production is seriously misguided. I mean no offense, but I know this from extensive personal experience.

                                      It comes down to that whole PETA anti-fur/foie gras thing: pick on the things that most middle Americans don't wear or eat or even understand in order to get the ball rolling. It's a deeply flawed logic on their part, as the ball would never roll any farther even if they succeeded in eliminating fur or foie gras.

                                      As for foie gras, I've had preperations that were not excellent, and I tend to prefer it warm than cold, but I just love all the nasty bits. I grew up on fried gizzards and hearts. And I've never seen Andrew Zimmern eat anything I wouldn't try, so that's saying something....

                              2. I've watched geese and ducks being "force fed". I can't say that I saw them exhibit any distress about the process beyond what any bird exhibits at being held still in any situation. They were fed, they did not fight the process, they were released, they smoothed their ruffled feathers and continued on their way. These fowl lived pretty good lives. They were free to roam and their shelters were clean and fresh. I've been told that geese and ducks don't have a gag reflex which would cause them discomfort if they had.

                                I've also had both the pre-migratory foie gras and traditional foie gras. All factors but the feeding being alike, both are mighty good but I have to say the traditional was definitely fuller and richer in flavor.

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: morwen

                                  On one of his programs, Anthony Bourdain went to a farm and taped the process - it looked v. much as you described it, and I believe there was a discussion about the lack of a gag reflex.

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    The place I was at was in the Roanoke, VA area, near where I was living at the time and the owners were experimenting with pre-migratory foi gras and traditional foie gras both for quality and economy. Although I haven't done any extensive research I am under the impression that these people are among the few if any in the US doing this. Could this have been the farm Bourdain visited? We're non-TV people so I have little access to cooking shows and TV chefs.

                                    1. re: morwen

                                      I think was actually in New York State. I'll try to find more information and post back for you.

                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                        Thanks! We've moved to the southern tier of NY and if it's nearby, I'll try to get there!

                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                            Thanks Ruth! Definitely a larger operation than the one I went to. Will be in that area next month and will try to stop by the farm and load up. I'm drooling already!

                                  2. re: morwen

                                    Ducks swallow whole fish - bones, scales, and all. Their throats are coated with a substance similar to our fingernails, and they don't have a gag reflex. They do their mastication (if you can call it that) in a gullet at the bottom of the throat before the food moves to the stomach for digestion.

                                    Studies by scientists in the EU found no increase in duck's stress hormones during the force feeding process. Foie ducks do not exhibit the neurotic tendencies indicative of depression that are associated with factory farmed animals. Though we can't question a duck directly, all evidence indicates that the gavage process is painless and not the least bit unpleasant.

                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                      It's so nice to see this discussed among people who have a clue!!

                                      I LOVE foie gras..and I've finally got my husband hooked upon it, gout or no gout! He's a hunter. Not a trophy hunter, but one who hunts humanely, and we eat what he brings home. He's watched birds feed when they migrate, they do gorge themselves.

                                      We have a farm behind our house...you should see this 8 lb birds pack away twice their weight in corn and soybeans in one day. They are so intent on gorging themselves I can walk right past them.

                                      We're raising our own chickens this year, and I've seriously played around with the idea of getting a couple ducks as well and seeing if I can raise my own foie....(not for sale, just for me!) Just for fun. :)

                                      1. re: sommrluv

                                        We're right there with you! All the red meat in our freezer (deer and caribou) we've hunted and processed ourselves. Up until last year when we got transfered, we lived where we could keep our own poultry and our pork and lamb was raised by a friend, again processed by ourselves. We had even discovered rolling rabbit hutches that would have allowed rabbits to safely roam our yard and were considering those as well. I'd often considered a few ducks for foie purposes but then we got sent to suburbia....sigh....

                                      2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                        In fact the EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health & Welfare stongly concluded that "force feeding, as currently practised, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds."

                                        It also reported evidence of ducks & geese showing "avoidance behaviour indicating aversion for the person who feeds them and the feeding procedure".

                                        Full report is available online.The disappointment is, seeing as the report was concluded in 1998, how little we have done since. No doubt vested interests at work

                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                          Concerning no gag reflex, I think this is probably true of all birds, since they can't chew their food before swallowing and in most cases can't even break or tear it into pieces. Watch any nature video about birds and you'll be amazed by what they can swallow. If they had gag reflexes they wouldn't be able to eat.

                                      3. Why can't we all get along? I think we should meet at Pied de Cachon in Montreal and work out our differences over dinner and a several bottles of fine wine. I can almost guarantee that we can reach some agreeable solution.

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: currymouth

                                          I've seen videos of foie farms where those birds mob the feeder with the gavage, so I have a hard time personally believing the 'aversion for the person' feeding them.

                                          1. re: sommrluv

                                            Just like with raising other animals for consumption like cows, pigs, etc. you have the foie gras producers who treat their animals humanely and those who treat them inhumanely. I've see footage of both sides.

                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                              Yes, but we're basically discussing the act of gavaging itself for foie gras, since that is the only thing that actually differs in the raising of the animal. There may be some other peculiarities in diet.

                                              So to say that the gavage itself would cause the animal distress, is unnatural, or abusive, well, we already know that not to be true.

                                              You can't outlaw all foie gras, because one foie gras farmer doesn't follow standard practice.

                                              Just as you wouldn't outlaw all beef, because of factory farming. We find better ways to do it. Set laws. etc.

                                              I guess I'm confused by the term 'humane treatment' when it comes to a duck. I buy organic meat. I don't want animals I eat to suffer needlessly, and I don't support factory farming. But a line has to be drawn...Animals are NOT humans. Animals are Animals. A duck is much happier being treated like a duck, I'm sure. :)

                                              1. re: sommrluv

                                                I think you may be confused about the meaning of the word "humane." According to my dictionary it means "characterized by kindness, mercy, or compassion." So "humane treatment" doesn't mean treating like a human, it means treating compassionately -- in your own words, not causing needless suffering.

                                                1. re: jlafler

                                                  Unfortunately the foie gras debate has been marred by a large proportion of semi/ill-informed discussants (not directed at anyone here mind you).

                                                  The average person with very superficial understanding about the topic (not meant as an insult, because I'd imagine the average person would have little interest in the topic anyways) would only see the PETA side of the debate i.e. footage of gavaging.... and then form an opinion on this topic. Mind you there are many other very well informed people against the foie gras industry, they are also entitled to their opinions. The well-informed are in the minority however.

                                                  I think the activists are targetting the wrong group. Their energies are better spent raising awareness of the conditions in other mass-produced meats e.g. chicken farms, which affect a lot more animals than the few foie gras producing duck farms.

                                                  I think Morton has summarized the most relevant points on both sides of the debate.

                                                  BTW, I'm against any ban because I think it's hypocritical to allow some of the "bad" chicken farms to continue operating while the majority of foie gras farms treat their ducks very well (from what I can gather). Stressed out ducks make poor quality foie.

                                                  I try to find out where my meat comes from, and if given a choice I would chose a reputable organic brand because the chances of it being a place where they treat their animals "better" is higher. Don't know whether this is true or not, but I'll take my chances.

                                                  1. re: jlafler


                                                    c.1450, variant of human, used interchangeably with it until early 18c., when it began to be a distinct word with sense of "having qualities befitting human beings." But inhuman still can be the opposite of humane.

                                                    Humane for years meant humanistic values and concerns, an intellectual education, well rounded, etc. Inhumane was always the opposite, and came to mean cruelty. Inhumane treatment has been twisted over the years to mean many things.

                                                    I'm a bit of an etymologist. I tend not to care about my spelling to much on message boards because I type rather fast and I think of them as rather casual, like email. :)

                                                    The whole Foie Gras debate, is making me hungry.

                                                  2. re: sommrluv

                                                    Sigh. I was originally going to put the term humane in quotes because of this controversy of what is humane.

                                                    All I'm trying to say is that the foie gras industry is like all the other industries where you have some people who abuse their animals and some people who don't. In addition to the footage that you described above where the ducks were treated like royalty, I've also seen footage where the ducks were treated like the cows at the Westland Farm. So you can't lump all foie gras producers saying it's "humane" or "inhumane." Just like cows, chickens, pigs, etc., it depends on the farm. So if one is truly interested in consuming products that are raised ethically, you need to examine the farm itself and not make these generalizations.

                                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                                      Good point, except that there's only 2 or 3 farms producing foie in any quantity on the North American continent, or so I thought. I may be wrong. But I thought all foie production in America and Canada had been thouroughly vetted by their high-end customers.

                                                      1. re: uptown jimmy

                                                        I remember that the footage I saw where the ducks were mistreated was from Quebec. The happy duck footage was from Bourdain's show, in which I think he visited the Hudson Valley in New York State. Have no clue what goes on in France.

                                            2. Last summer when this seemed to be heating up and it was in all the papers in Philly I had no Foie Gras on my menu. I put it on to make a statement, I WANTED to get pickets. Alas, they haven't come yet but I'm still hoping. Sales have been WONDERFUL!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: tudor3522

                                                Good points.

                                                Since nothing is done about the cruelty to animals in other food productions, it doesn't make sense to bother with how foie gras is produced.