Duck, Duck, Goose: ALDF Takes on Foie Gras

hudson valley foie gras
Baby ducks in trash bin at the “humane” Hudson Valley Foie Gras. (Photo by APRL)

Update: On January 27, 2014 the 9th Circuit Court denied a request by a coalition of foie gras producers to rehear their constitutional challenge against California’s ban on foie gras. A smaller panel of judges had previously ruled that the foie gras ban was constitutional. Going forward, the producers may petition the Supreme Court to hear their challenge to the ban, or may take their case back to the District Court.

There was a lot of buzz last summer about California’s ban on the production and sale of force-fed foie gras—a momentous step forward for farmed animals in the U.S. Yet, on the other side of the country, young ducks continue to be force-fed by producers like New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG). Foie gras, a highly profitable “gourmet” product regulated by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets and sold in New York restaurants, is made by stuffing young ducks so full of food their livers swell up to eight or more times their natural size.

On the heels of the California ban, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has launched multiple attacks against the foie gras industry in the courts. In August, 2013 ALDF achieved one more victory when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier decision denying an industry request to temporarily lift the ban while they contest the law in litigation. ALDF, along with Farm Sanctuary, HSUS, and the Marin Humane Society, filed an amicus brief in that case, as a lifting of the ban would also have substantially delayed ALDF’s pending lawsuit against Napa, California-based La Toque restaurant.  La Toque is appealing ALDF’s July 2013 victory over the restaurant’s attempt to illegally sell  force-fed foie gras products  and then protect this lawbreaking as “freedom of speech.” However, Napa County Superior Court agreed with ALDF that illegally selling foie gras is not free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. The upcoming appeal will mark the first time a California appellate court will hear a case on the foie gras ban.

In yet another  landmark case, ALDF’s lawsuit against Hudson Valley Foie Gras was the first time a humane competitor used false advertising laws in a federal case alongside an animal protection group. Ella Nemcova, a co-plaintiff in ALDF’s suit, owns a Brooklyn-based company called The Regal Vegan, which produces a legitimately humane and plant-derived foie gras alternative called “Faux Gras.” Hudson Valley Foie Gras, on the other hand, promoted themselves as “The Humane Choice” while brutalizing ducks for gourmet profits. HVFG’s deceptive tactics violated state and federal laws by unfairly urging consumers to buy force-fed foie gras rather than cruelty-free products like The Regal Vegan’s. ALDF withdrew that lawsuit after Hudson Valley Foie Gras removed its deceptive use of “humane” language.

The Inhumane Choice

A day in the life of a bird raised for foie gras includes several force-feedings in which a thick pipe is rammed down his throat and huge amounts of grain pumped directly into his stomach. Free time is spent crammed in extremely small, dirty pens. Infection and painful punctures in the beak and throat are common, and many ducks cannot move normally and become too heavy for their legs to hold them. When ducks get sick from these conditions, human workers may simply throw them into a trash heap. The ducks who survive are eviscerated and their diseased livers sold as food by producers such as HVFG.

Recent investigations into Hudson Valley Foie Gras revealed appalling conditions. Dead ducks are tossed into garbage cans or lying alongside living ducks struggling to breathe, unable to escape, with untreated sores left festering. Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the largest U.S. producer of foie gras, defines itself as “The Humane Choice” in its promotional materials. Does this seem humane to you?

A Diseased Food Product

But the fight does not end there. In a suit against the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, ALDF warned that by not declaring that foie gras comes from diseased animals, the Department is putting consumer health at risk—and violating New York state laws. This lawsuit also names foie gras producers Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Bella Poultry, and La Belle Farms, who profit from the sale of diseased poultry. ALDF will not let them get away with it, and this case is currently on appeal.

Foie gras has been banned in over a dozen countries. Force-feeding damages the livers of the birds so badly it induces an extremely painful disease known as hepatic lipidosis. Scientific studies also show that consumption of foie gras is associated with a fatal disease in humans called secondary amyloidosis. Hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions) of birds have been slaughtered and their diseased organs sold into the human food supply for the financial profit of foie gras producers.

Taking on a Public Health Threat and Animal Cruelty Nightmare

ALDF is working hard to end this blatant disregard for human health and animal welfare. A victory in these cases will mean a nail in the coffin of this country’s fading foie gras industry. In other recent legal actions, ALDF petitioned the USDA to label foie gras the product of diseased birds and also urged California Attorney General Harris to sue foie gras advocates for false advertising. ALDF attorneys simply will not rest until consumers are told the truth about this diseased and cruel “gourmet food.”

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