A Second Chance to Ban Foie Gras in the U.S.
Eating foie gras can make you very sick. Making foie gras always makes ducks and geese very sick, and then dead.
Buying or selling foie gras in interstate commerce is illegal based on the wording of a federal law passed by Congress, but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ignores that law to keep the foie gras coming. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Farm Sanctuary and others came together to petition the USDA to get its head out of the sand and acknowledge that foie gras violates the law. It didn’t.
So ALDF, Farm Sanctuary, Compassion Over Killing and others took the USDA to court where a judge might force it to do its job. In round one of the lawsuit the judge ruled that the USDA could carry on playing make-believe that foie gras passes legal muster. ALDF and friends decided to take another swing by appealing that ruling to a higher court on May 17th.
The law that the USDA selectively ignores is the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA). It forbids “the movement or sale in interstate or foreign commerce of…poultry products which are adulterated.” Adulterated means that a poultry product, like foie gras, is for any reason “unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food.”
Foie Gras is Unhealthful, Unwholesome and Unfit for Human Food Because it Can Make People Very Sick
The petition that the anti-foie gras coalition filed with the USDA described the health dangers of eating foie gras. It estimated that the pate is particularly dangerous for people who have or are prone to develop an inflammatory disease. 22.3 million Americans already have rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease or type II diabetes. But there are other inflammatory diseases, and foie gras is also a threat to people prone to develop any inflammatory disorder, so the total number of people at risk from foie gras is much higher than that.
People with inflammatory diseases are at higher risk of developing secondary amyloidosis from eating foie gras. Symptoms of amyloidosis include:
- Bleeding in the skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Numbness of hands and feet
- Shortness of breath
- Swallowing difficulties
- Swollen arms or legs
- Swollen tongue
- Weak hand grip
- Weight loss
There is no treatment for amyloidosis.
I’d call that unhealthful.
Making Foie Gras Tortures Birds
Liver pate is also unhealthful, and most certainly unsound, for the birds whose livers become the pate. To get from healthy liver to fatty, diseased liver, i.e. foie gras, producers force feed ducks and geese for four weeks, then kill them.
I described this process in an earlier Care2 Causes post, based on ALDF’s descriptions in another lawsuit:
Foie gras producers call force-feeding “gavage,” and they start doing it when ducks are thirteen weeks old. Two to three times a day, “an inflexible, unlubricated [ten-inch] tube is forcibly inserted into” the duck’s esophagus while she is restrained. The tube delivers way too much corn mash “directly into the bird’s stomach.” Every day a little more food is crammed in.
With all that food one might think the ducks would at least be well-nourished, but no such luck. In the petition to the USDA, ALDF wrote that “an analysis of feed actually used in the production process confirmed that [it] was nutritionally inadequate and a contributing factor to the disease.”
Many diseases afflict birds who are victims of gavage, according to the petition.
- central nervous troubles such as circling movements, epileptiform crisis, and increase of the intracranial pressure accompanied by migraines, and finally stupor, coma and death;
- secondary infections;
- hepatic lipidosis, characterized by depression, diarrhea, biliverdinuria, obesity, poor feathering, dyspnea, and abdominal enlargement;
- hepatic encephalopathy, characterized by seizures, ataxia, and muscle tremors.
I don’t understand all of those words, but the ones I do know are enough to paint an excruciating picture: migraines, depression, diarrhea, seizures, muscle tremors — wow. Some of the birds don’t live long enough to complete the two to four week gavage process.
ALDF points out that gavage also causes painful wounds to birds’ beaks and throats, and usually makes them “so uncomfortable and top heavy [that their] legs won’t” hold them and they can’t move normally. Birds who fall ill “may be simply tossed onto a trash heap.”
The judicial system has another chance to make things right and put an end to this nightmare. Let’s hope that this time the judges do the right thing.