Foie Gras Lawsuit: Opponents Claim USDA Allows Sale Of 'Diseased Bird Organs'

Foie Gras Opponents Allege 'Diseased Organs' In New Lawsuit

The foie gras debate is seemingly endless -- animal rights activists are never going to say that they support it, and it's unlikely that chefs are ever going to stop using it. As the chapters of this saga keep going, today several animal rights groups -- the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Compassion Over Killing, the Animal Protection & Rescue League, Farm Sanctuary -- have turned a new page. They are suing the USDA for violating the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) because -- as these groups claim -- foie gras is made from "diseased bird organs." Allowing the sale of it is therefore illegal, they claim.

In a blog post on The Huffington Post, Bruce Friedrich, Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives of Farm Sanctuary, explains the suit:

Our lawsuit is based on the fact that the PPIA dictates that diseased animal organs are supposed to be condemned by USDA inspectors, and foie gras is -- by definition -- a diseased organ. Thus, USDA should do its job by banning the sale of foie gras nationally.

Friedrich doesn't explain exactly why it is inherently diseased, but seems to base the assessment around the force feeding:

[T]he European Union's Scientific Committee on Animal Health found that death rates during force feeding skyrocket by 10 to 20 times; imagine any process that causes a population's death rate to be 1000 to 2000 percent greater than normal. Of course, every animal is in misery for the entire horrid ordeal. The birds who don't die suffer from impaired liver function, skeletal disorders, and other serious illnesses. Many become so sick they can barely move. Carcasses show wing fractures and severe tissue damage to the throat muscles.

It is the intent of Congress that when poultry and poultry products are condemned because of disease, the reason for condemnation in such instances shall be supported by scientific fact, information, or criteria, and such condemnation under this chapter shall be achieved through uniform inspection standards and uniform applications thereof.

However, the USDA has not recognized that foie gras is, in fact, made of "diseased bird organs," nor does everyone agree that that is the case. On the website for Sonoma Foie Gras, the company explains the foie gras production process:

Since the process of producing foie gras is physiological rather than pathological, the fattened liver, or foie gras, created by managed feeding, would return to its normal size if the process stopped.

Based on this description, the liver may be fattened, but not diseased.

Rick Bishop, the National Sales & Marketing Director for Hudson Valley Foie Gras, echoed a similar sentiment to HuffPost Food. "The USDA would not allow a diseased organ to be sold," he said. Bishop called the production of foie gras "a reversible, healthy process in an animal, beyond question." Foie gras proponents often describe the difference between a duck's gag reflex and a human's -- ducks don't have one.

Meanwhile, as the anti-foie gras advocates continue to support the upcoming California law that will outlaw the sale of foie gras, pro-foie chefs and producers are stepping up their campaign as well. Robin Wilkey of The Huffington Post reported on the actions of the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS), who are working to get the state of California to reconsider to July 1 foie gras ban. A "Save Foie Gras" petition has been started, with support from some big-name chefs such as Jose Andres and Andrew Zimmern. At the James Beard Awards on Monday, several chefs and food industry professionals were sporting "Save The Foie" buttons, provided by D'Artagnan.

While it is unlikely that the USDA will outlaw foie gras on the grounds that it is a "diseased bird organ," it seems very likely that foie gras opponents -- and proponents -- are geared up for a tough fight ahead.

Photo from Flickr user: Laura Padgett

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