Duck, Duck, Goose: ALDF Takes on Foie Gras

Foie gras is a cruelly-produced, high-priced “gourmet” delicacy that comes from force-feeding young ducks (or geese) until their livers swell to eight or more times their natural size. Foie gras (French for “fat liver”) is the diseased liver of an animal who has suffered enormously. That’s why California’s 2004 ban (which went into effect in 2012) on the production and sale of foie gras was a momentous step forward. But on January 7, 2015, a U.S. District Court overturned California’s ban, treating animals as “goods in commerce” rather than as living, sentient beings. That misguided decision flies in the face of state law, voter desires, and ALDF’s legal victories against the foie gras industry. On February 4, Attorney General Kamala Harris appealed this recent ruling, and ALDF expects the ban will be reinstated.

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 New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG).

Previous investigations into Hudson Valley Foie Gras revealed appalling conditions. Dead ducks 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, once tried to define itself as “The Humane Choice” in its promotional materials while brutalizing ducks for gourmet profits.

That’s why in 2012, ALDF filed a landmark lawsuit against Hudson Valley Foie Gras—it 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.” HVFG’s false advertising 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 “humane” language.

Constitutional Challenges to the Ban

Unfortunately, the law breaking didn’t stop there. Some restaurants in California (and the producers who supplied them) didn’t want to lose the bankroll they made from animal cruelty, and protested the state ban enormously. Several wantonly violated the humane values put forth by the voters of California. They colored themselves as anti-ban heroes, despite engaging in inhumane and illegal activity. However, the courts did not agree with that portrayal of their illegal activities.

For example, in July 2013, ALDF won a legal battle against Napa, California-based La Toque restaurant for illegally selling force-fed foie gras products. La Toque appealed ALDF’s victory by claiming that breaking the law to sell cruel products was “freedom of speech.” Napa County Superior Court scoffed, and agreed with ALDF that illegally selling foie gras is not free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The next month, in August, 2013 ALDF achieved one more victory when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier decision denying a temporarily lifting of the ban. ALDF, along with Farm Sanctuary, HSUS, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Assocation,and the Marin Humane Society, filed an amicus brief in that case. On January 27, 2014 the Ninth Circuit denied a request by a coalition of foie gras producers to rehear their constitutional challenge against California’s ban. A smaller panel of judges had previously ruled that the foie gras ban was constitutional. On October 14 2014, the Supreme Court declined to review the case, allowing the ban to stand.

A Diseased Food Product

But the fight does not end there. Even though foie gras is the result of swollen and often diseased livers that result from force-feeding an animal unnaturally, it is regulated by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets and sold in New York restaurants as a food product.

In September 2012, ALDF filed a lawsuit against the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, warning that in not declaring that foie gras comes from diseased animals, the Department puts consumer health at risk – and violates New York state laws. This lawsuit also named foie gras producers Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Bella Poultry, and La Belle Farms, who profit from the sale of diseased poultry.

Taking on a Public Health Threat and Animal Cruelty Nightmare

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.

ALDF is working hard to end this blatant disregard for human health and animal welfare. 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 will not rest until this cruel industry is shut down and our humane laws are upheld.

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