On July 1st of this year the sale of foie gras officially becomes illegal in California and the unrest within the culinary community is growing.
More than 100 chefs have joined a coalition to overturn or amend the ban called The Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, or CHEFS. The coalition, headed by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), has developed a charter that, they say, ensures that the production of foie gras is safe, humane and ethical.
Among the recommendations are that farms keep animals in comfortable and stress-free environments and they’re fed by hand by well-trained professionals. CHEFS also wants farms to have regular check-ins with animal health care professionals.
“We want to make sure that when this product is produced that its done in the most ethical way possible,” said GGRA Executive Director Rob Black.
In addition, Black says that none of the chefs who have signed onto the coalition want to support the abuse of animals. He says fowl are built with certain physical characteristics that make gavage (the feeding method used to create foie gras) possible and far from abusive.
"What we’re talking about is a condition called Hepatic steatosis, and it is a pathological and damaging condition in mammals, but that’s just not the case in waterfowl,” explained Black. “To equate the two is to disregard physiological differences.”
Black says the ban will create an instant black market for foie gras and will have many unintended consequences because there are several ancillary products created from the production of foie gras that will also be affected.
Animal rights activists strongly disagree with CHEFS position. They say there’s no such thing as cruelty-free foie gras, the process by which the product is created is harmful no matter how many safeguards are put in place.
“The way the producers make foie gras is by shoving a pipe down a duck’s throat and forcing him to consume far more than he would ever normally eat,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of Farm Animal Protection of the Humane Society. “It’s cruel, it’s inhumane and California, frankly, was very right to ban this form of animal abuse 7 ½ years ago.”
One important caveat of the law is that it doesn’t necessarily ban the sale of foie gras, but it bans the method producers use to force feed geese and ducks to create the fatty liver delicacy. In the view of the Humane Society, consumers of the product are actually eating the diseased liver of maltreated animals.
“The force-feeding causes their livers to become diseased and swell up to ten times their normal size,” said Shapiro. “Most people probably wouldn’t want to eat any part of a diseased animal, yet in the case of foie gras, it’s the diseased organ itself on which consumers dine.”
Tasty, right? But, is there any way to stop the July 1st ban from going into effect? Is the method of creating foie gras inherently cruel? Or are ducks and geese physically capable of enduring the process without pain? If you couldn’t legally get your foie, would you consider buying it on the black market?
Rob Black, Executive Director, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, the group spearheading the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS)
Paul Shapiro, Vice President, Farm Animal Protection, The Humane Society of the United States