Foie gras, anyone? Many people find fattened duck or goose liver a tasty treat. Now a New York City law could say pas de foie gras and end sales of the pricey French delicacy. And that ban could spell trouble for U.S. producers of the luxury food.
Foie gras (pronounced fwah grah) means “fat liver.” It is a spreadable, succulent food product made by forcing ducks or geese to consume large amounts of corn. Fans describe the dish as beefy and buttery; opponents call the making of foie gras cruel.
This summer, most New York City Council members signed a bill banning foie gras sales. If the bill passes, violators could pay a $1,000 fine and spend up to a year in prison for selling bird livers—or products made from them like pâté and mousse.
The bill alarms workers at Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a 200-acre farm north of the city. Hudson Valley is the largest producer of foie gras in the United States. Hundreds of workers there and at another nearby farm feed about 350,000 birds a year.
What’s all the squawking about? Here’s what happens. Every eight hours, a worker inserts a six-inch plastic tube into a duck or goose’s beak. Whoosh! A soft mix of corn, soybeans, and water gushes down the bird’s throat and straight to the stomach. Each feeding takes about six seconds. The process fattens birds’ livers up to 10 times their normal size. After three weeks of tube feeding, the birds are slaughtered to be sold as food.
It might sound horrible. But Hudson Valley farmer Marcus Henley insists it isn’t. Unlike humans, birds don’t have a gag reflex. They swallow their food whole. So the tube doesn’t bother them like it would a person. Henley also notes that the fattening process mimics a natural one. Ducks and geese in the wild overeat to store up extra nutrition for their long annual migrations. “We see no sign of stress or discomfort,” Henley says.
Opponents of the practice disagree. They say the force-feeding is barbaric. They point out the unnaturalness of having a tube pushed down the throat—and they say an enlarged liver is a symptom of disease.
Chicago banned foie gras in 2006. Lawmakers repealed the regulation in 2008 after then-Mayor Richard Daley called it “the silliest law that they’ve ever passed.” California banned the delicacy in 2012.
If Manhattan lawmaker Carlina Rivera has her way, NYC may be next. Rivera calls the ban “common sense” and the tube feeding “the gruesome abuse of animals.”
Henley says losing the city sales would likely shut down his business and cost hundreds of people their jobs.