Is Calling Foie Gras ‘Humane’ False Advertising?
Force-feeding ducks until their livers near explosion can never be the humane choice.
That is the basic argument the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) makes in the lawsuit it filed November 13th against Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG), “the largest foie gras producer in the nation.” New York-based HVFG claims that its product is “the Humane Choice.” ALDF calls its bluff, suing for false advertising.
Vegan caterer The Regal Vegan joins ALDF as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Regal makes a product called “Faux Gras” that contains no animal products. The plaintiffs argue that many consumers prefer to buy humane products, and that if HVFG were not passing its foie gras off as humane, those customers would buy Regal’s Faux Gras instead. They are bringing an unfair competition claim on that ground.
The lawsuit that ALDF and Regal Vegan filed in the Northern California federal court includes tons of evidence that producing foie gras tortures ducks. (Some producers use geese, but HVFG uses only ducks.) The process of force-feeding is painful, traumatic and physically damaging. The consequences of forcing the birds to consume far more food than they need or want are painful and often fatal.
Foie gras producers call force-feeding “gavage,” and they start doing it when ducks are thirteen weeks old. Two to three times a day, ALDF alleges, “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.” (The quotations are from the legal papers that ALDF filed with the court.) Every day a little more food is crammed in.
After four weeks of this, HVFG kills the ducks.
Having an “inflexible, unlubricated” tube shoved ten inches down one’s throat sounds like it would hurt, and the ducks bear physical evidence of the pain. ALDF alleges that gavage causes injuries including “bacterial infection, fungal growth, pneumonia, bone fractures, crop impaction, ruptured esophagi, granulomas, aspiration, trauma, abrasions, and perforations.”
I didn’t know what all of that means, so I looked it up. A bird’s crop “is an expandable muscular pouch near the gullet or throat.” It is “essentially an extension of the esophagus.” Crop impaction happens when “food gets stuck in the crop” and the duck “can’t swallow anymore.”
A granuloma is an “area of inflammation in tissue.”
Unsurprisingly, despite their injuries, these ducks don’t get the luxury of veterinary treatment.
So that is what the birds suffer just from the process of force-feeding. What about the consequences of having way too much food in their stomachs — food which is, incidentally, nutritionally deficient?
ALDF says that “the birds’ livers grow to eight or more times their natural size.” It seems kind of obvious, without another word, that that cannot be comfortable or healthy. But to be more specific, it can lead to hepatic lipidosis, “septicemia, respiratory distress, toxemia, inflammation, neurological damage, ruptured liver, liver failure, hypoglycemic coma, skin diseases, encephalopathy, bursitis, seizures, diarrhea, depression, loss of appetite, swollen feet, lameness, obesity, and bowel obstruction.”
Even without looking up all the long words I can tell that a grossly enlarged liver is painful and life-threatening.
Giant livers don’t just hurt — they kill. 2-4 percent of the force-fed ducks die before they get to slaughter. That means that force-feeding kills some ducks in just four weeks. Imagine how many more of them would die what are most likely painful deaths if gavage lasted longer.
Foie gras can’t possibly be the “Humane Choice.” This is hardly a new proposition: force-feeding birds is illegal in Israel, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, most of Austria, and other countries, as well as California.
This lawsuit “marks the first time a humane competitor has used false advertising laws in a federal case alongside an animal protection group.” Time will tell what the courts make of it, but even if the plaintiffs win, HVFG will only have to stop calling itself the “Humane Choice” — it won’t have to stop torturing ducks.