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Will NYC Finally Ban Foie Gras This Year?

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Earlier this year, we reported that the city council was considering a bill banning the sale of foie gras in NYC on the grounds that it’s cruel to physically pump fowl full of feed before leading them to slaughter. The NY Times reported today that the bill, which has been in committee for months, will likely come up for a vote in the fall, with more than half of the Council already signed on as co-sponsors. After a similar initiative failed in 2008, the time seems ripe for this one to pass. But will it actually happen?

In case you’re not familiar and/or have yet to try it yourself, foie gras is a fancy liver paste that comes either from a duck or a goose; it literally means “fatty liver” in French. It’s a delicacy that is served in nearly 1,000 restaurants across the city (according to the Times), most of whom rely on several duck farms in the Hudson Valley, which are among the only U.S. producers, to produce it.

Critics have a serious problem with the methods by which the local farms make it though: they typically shove tubes down animals’ throats to engorge their organs with flavor, a production process known as gavage. As PETA wrote, “The force-feeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to up to 10 times their normal size. Many birds have difficulty standing because their engorged livers distend their abdomens, and they may tear out their own feathers and attack each other out of stress.”

You can see a video of the disturbing practice below.

Animal-rights activists and the legislation’s sponsor, Lower Manhattan council member Carlina Rivera, say that the practice is inhumane. Rivera’s bill would make selling foie gras a misdemeanor crime, imposing fines up to $1,000, and even a year of jail time, on violators. There is precedent for such legislation, as similar bans have happened in California and, briefly, Chicago. Christine Kim, the animal-welfare liaison to Mayor Bill de Blasio, said during testimony earlier this year that the mayor’s office supports the intent of the bill.

“Don’t tell me you’re a fan of the Central Park Mandarin duck but you think foie gras is OK,” council member Justin Brannan told the Post earlier this year. “Force-feeding a bird for the sole purpose of making it sick to create some bizarre delicacy is gruesome and inhumane. This may have been acceptable in 2500 BC but I think we know better now.”

But there remains some opposition to the bill. Advocates point to foie gras’ long culinary history (humans have engaged in gavage since the ancient Egyptians), and some veterinarians argue the animals are “physiologically normal” despite being force-fed. Some of the products in the city come from ducks in Spain that naturally gorge themselves, which is hard to distinguish from the locally-sourced kind. The two major foie gras producers upstate, Hudson Valley and La Belle Farm, employ over 400 people, some of whom defended the practice during a recent hearing. There’s also the city’s poor history of following through on animal-related legislation.

And then there are the people who think this is just political correctness run amok. Per the Times:

But foie gras advocates say claims of torture are exaggerated and politically motivated. Foie gras, as a luxury item, is an easy target, compared with animals raised industrially for wide consumption. “If you try to get people to give up their cheap chicken, you would have a problem, because it would affect their budgets,” said Mark Caro, who wrote “The Foie Gras Wars,” an exploration of the controversy. “It’s enjoyed by foodies and gourmets: people most of this country resents,” he continued. “There’s a definite anti-snob thing going on.”

Dr. Holly Cheever, a veterinarian who is vice president of the New York State Humane Association, told the Times that the manner in which the animals are prepared in New York leaves them in a terrible state before being slaughtered—unable to walk or breathe at times, and in liver failure. “If we are going to consume another sentient being, we should make sure the production method is painless,” Dr. Cheever said. “This is the cruelest form of food production.”



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