Factory Farming > Birds > Foie Gras - Index

Foie gras ban gets vivid hearing
September 14, 2005

Veterinarians and animals rights activists on Tuesday described in graphic detail how geese and ducks suffer while being force-fed to create the liver delicacy known as foie gras.

"I'm sorry I had breakfast after listening to you," said Ald. Shirley Coleman (16th).

If there was any doubt about the torturous nature of the process used to create the pricey appetizer, veterinarian Dr. Holly Cheever cleared it up -- and then some.

Cheever is a wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in treating ducks, geese and other injured waterfowl. She described how a goose or duck is restrained three times a day while a steel feeding pipe is jammed down its esophagus. That's how the delicacy known as foie gras -- French for fatty liver -- is created.

Ducks 'die in massive pain'

"There is food spilling from the nostrils of these poor animals, who choke to death. As the [enlarged] liver fails, they develop a brain condition. You will see birds having seizures or in comas still being grabbed and force-fed. The liver is so expanded that, when the handlers put too much pressure on their abdomens, the livers may simply rupture and they die in massive pain and discomfort from internal hemorrhage," Cheever said.

"No other egg production, pork production, beef production, dairy production -- nowhere do we intentionally create a desperately ill animal, slaughter it just before it's gonna die because you've made it so ill, and then take this diseased organ, mix it up with herbs and spices and slap it on a cracker on New Year's Eve."

'An affront to our humanity'

The way ducks and geese are force-fed is "outside the bounds of acceptable conduct in a society that values compassion," said Gene Bauston, president of Farm Sanctuary, an organization he described as the nation's leading farm-animal protection organization.

"Their livers expand up to six to ten times their normal size. With a liver that big, the other organs are being pushed. Their legs are being pushed out, so it's hard to walk. It's even difficult to breathe because the liver is pushing up against their lung sacs," Bauston said.

"This is an indefensible practice. This is a product that is spread on crackers. It's a delicacy. It's an hors d'oeuvre. It is eaten by a very few people. A Zogby poll conducted in Illinois within the last couple of weeks found that 90 percent of Illinois citizens either never ate foie gras or never even heard of foie gras. It is a product that is not necessary, an affront to our humanity."

After hearing the compelling testimony, the Health Committee took no action on a proposal by Ald. Joe Moore (49th) to ban the sale of foie gras in Chicago restaurants.

Restaurants to get say

Health Committee Chairman Ed Smith (28th), who's keeping an open mind, said he wants to hold at least one more hearing to give restaurant owners who serve the controversial delicacy an opportunity to weigh in on the ban.

Famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter has already stopped serving foie gras. According to Bauston, more than 100 other Illinois restaurants have signed similar pledges.

But Illinois Restaurant Association President Colleen McShane remains opposed to a ban, either at the state or city level.

"What about chicken. Is chicken next? Will they ban the sale of lamb and veal? If you start, where do you stop?" McShane said. "When you open this door, will it ever close?

"This has been around forever. Why is it all of the sudden an issue? The USDA controls how livestock, poultry and duck farms are run. If the USDA thought there was cruelty [they would step in]. The point is, this is not a local issue."