Monday, May 7, 2012

The Trouble with Foie Gras

At what point can the process used to produce or gather food be considered so cruel as to warrant a ban on that process? As a vegan, I've made the decision that I'm not comfortable with the use of any animal products in my diet. But many non-vegans have also drawn a line in the sand with respect to certain cruel and inhumane food production practices.

One that comes to mind is the uproar caused by the knowledge that veal calves spend their entire lives confined in tiny crates. In California, this led to the passage of Proposition 2 in 2008, which will prohibit, beginning January 1, 2015, the confinement of veal calves in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. Proposition 2 also includes provisions to require more humane confinement of egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs. This measure was approved by an astonishing 63.5 percent of California voters in the November 4, 2008, election. Clearly, the voters, the vast majority of whom are not vegan, were not comfortable with the idea that the animals that ended up on their dinner table did so after a life of misery and suffering.

Another example is the horrific practice of shark finning, in which sharks are caught and their fins are sliced off, then the sharks are thrown back into the ocean alive to either drown or be killed by predators. The purpose of this incredibly cruel act is to meet the demand for shark fin soup. But last year, the California Legislature decided to end this practice, not only for humane reasons, but because of declines in shark populations. By enacting Assembly Bill 376, the Legislature and the Governor banned the possession or sale of shark fins beginning January 1, 2013.

Several years ago, the Legislature addressed another cruel and inhumane practice -- shoving tubes down the throats of geese and ducks and force-feeding them enormous quantities of food in order to enlarge their livers. These enlarged livers are then used to make foie gras, which is a liver paste that is considered a delicacy among the elite who can afford the $50 per pound cost. Not surprisingly, "foie gras" means "fat liver" in French.

In 2004, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 1520, which bans the practice of force-feeding geese and other birds for the purpose of enlarging their livers, and prohibits the sale of foie gras or any other product if it was made by force-feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging its liver. The author of the bill, former Senate President pro Tempore John Burton, delayed the effective date of the bill until July 1, 2012, in order to allow time for foie gras producers to find a more humane way to fatten the birds' livers.

However, now that the ban is less than two months away, and no one seems to have worked very diligently in the meantime to find a new way to produce foie gras, chefs throughout the state have apparently gone into meltdown and are begging the Legislature to repeal the ban. An organization calling itself the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS) collected signatures of one hundred chefs on a petition that was delivered to Speaker of the Assembly John Perez asking that the ban be overturned and standards for the production of foie gras be established instead. They seem to believe that it is possible to humanely shove a tube down the throat of a goose and force-feed it corn mash until its liver is ten times its normal size. Who knew? Sacramento area chefs who signed this petition are:

Pajo Bruich, Lounge ON20, Sacramento
Molly Hawks, Hawks Restaurant, Granite Bay
Patrick Mulvaney, Mulvaney's B&L, Sacramento
Randall Selland, Selland Family Restaurants, Sacramento
Michael Thiemann, Ella Dining Room and Bar, Sacramento
Noah Zonca, The Kitchen, Sacramento

Fortunately, former Senator John Burton, the Humane Society, and other animal welfare advocates immediately mobilized opposition to the petition, which culminated in an announcement by Speaker Perez and Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg that the Legislature has more important issues to deal with than revisiting the ban on foie gras. Another victory for animals and the people who care about them!

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