Little did I know when I introduced into the Chicago City Council a proposed ordinance calling for a ban on the sale of foie gras in Chicago, that it would provoke widespread national attention. Most of us who are more accustomed to dining out at Applebeeís or Steak and Shake may never have heard of foie gras. It is a French delicacy served at upscale restaurants and quite literally is the swollen liver of a deliberately overfed goose or duck.
Many describe the production process for foie gras as cruel and inhumane. I think thatís an understatement. According to Dr. Holly Cheever, a nationally renowned veterinarian who practices near Albany, N.Y., the ducks and geese that provide the liver are forcibly restrained three times a day and a steel pipe is forced down their esophagi. The handler pumps a fatty, corn-rich gruel down their gullets, which causes extensive trauma to their esophagi.
Often the birds are in pens so small the creatures canít flap their wings, much less turn around. After a few weeks of forced feeding, the birdsí livers become enlarged up to 10 times their normal size. The birds suffer from liver disease, "hepatic lipidosis." They become too ill to walk and can only move by dragging themselves by their tattered wings. The swollen livers press against other internal organs and make it difficult for the birds to breathe properly.
The force feeding lasts from two to four weeks before the birds are slaughtered and during that time the birds experience increased pain and suffering with each passing day. Examinations of the birds after they die reveal ruptured esophagi and livers, enormously swollen and discolored livers and many internal and external infections. Their feathers are tattered and their legs are lame and covered with abscesses and injuries. Even some who acknowledge the
brutality of the practice challenge the right of Chicago to prohibit the sale of foie gras. What business is it of city government to tell restaurants and stores what they can or cannot sell and consumers what they can or cannot eat?
The answer is very simple. Our laws are a reflection of our culture, values and mores. They set forth the standards of behavior in a civilized society. Our culture does not condone the torture of innocent and defenseless creatures. And we as a society believe all Godís creatures should be treated humanely. Accordingly, our laws should reflect those beliefs. Because of its inherent cruelty, force-feeding birds for foie gras has been outlawed in the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Israel, which was previously the fourth-largest producer of foie gras in the world.
In the United States, California became the first state to ban its sale and production. The Illinois General Assembly this year considered legislation banning the production of foie gras. The legislation passed unanimously in the Illinois State Senate and will be considered by the House of Representatives next year. In addition, many well-known and reputable businesses have made the decision to no longer sell foie gras. After touring a foie gras farm in New York, representatives from Whole Foods decided emphatically that their company no longer would carry the product and famed Chicago restaurant owner Charlie Trotter decided earlier this year he no longer would offer foie gras to his guests.
Finally, according to a recent Zogby poll, almost 80 percent of Americans, when educated about foie gras, support a ban on its production. Of course no foie gras farms exist within the city limits of Chicago. But we in the Chicago City Council can do our part to discourage this brutal agricultural practice by outlawing its sale within our city. The fewer restaurants that serve this product of animal torture, the fewer animals that will be subject to this unspeakable cruelty. Hopefully, aldermen and council members in other cities will follow our lead.