The Only Thing Unadulterated About Foie Gras Is the Cruelty

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The Animal Legal Defense Fund will argue this week in federal court that foie gras must be banned nationwide as an "adulterated" poultry product -- one that is unwholesome, unsound and unfit for human food. Should ALDF ultimately prevail, millions of ducks and geese will be spared extreme cruelty, and American meat eaters will have one less serious health risk to worry about (a much needed respite given the World Health Organization's recent report that processed meat could cause cancer and red meat could likely cause cancer).

Torture of Birds for Foie Gras Leads to Food Safety Threat

Foie gras (French for "fatty liver") is essentially force-fed torture. Producers grab birds by their necks and stuff foot-long unlubricated feeding pipes down their throats, pumping in three pounds of grain and fat per day -- the equivalent of force-feeding 45 pounds of food to an adult human -- causing their livers to swell 6-10 times normal size.

Investigations of foie gras producers across the U.S and Europe have revealed sick, dead and dying birds -- some with gaping holes in their necks, others asphyxiated from food entering their tracheas during forced-feedings. One such investigation into a Sonoma-based "artisan" foie gras producer uncovered ducks so sick they couldn't move, not even to ward off the rats eating them alive. Unsurprisingly, force-fed ducks have a mortality rate 10-20 times higher than ducks who aren't force-fed.

The health dangers posed by foie gras consumption are a direct product of the cruel practice of force-feeding. A 2007 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the livers of force-fed birds contained significantly higher concentrations of an abnormal protein than the livers of birds who were not force-fed. The study demonstrated a connection between the presence of that protein and the onset of "secondary amyloidosis," a disease that can be fatal to humans.

According to the study, "it would seem prudent for children and adults with rheumatoid arthritis or other diseases who are at risk for this disorder to avoid foods that may be [so] contaminated," such as foie gras. That means approximately 22.3 million Americans are at risk from the consumption of force-fed foie gras.

USDA's Dereliction of Duty

Under the Poultry Product Inspection Act, the United States Department of Agriculture has a statutory duty to prevent "diseased poultry" from entering the human food supply. And yet, the USDA continues to sit idly by as diseased fatty duck and goose livers make their way from factory farm to kitchen table.

In 2007, ALDF petitioned the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to declare foie gras an adulterated product and thus ban its sale. In its response, FSIS had little choice but to concede that the enormous livers of force-fed birds would be "considered abnormal" and "affected by hepatic lipidosis" (a disease characterized by an enlarged, fatty, and degenerate liver). FSIS nonetheless claimed that foie gras needn't be condemned because the birds' "abnormal" livers are the result of intentional force-feeding rather than a pathogen. Never mind that FSIS's own regulations require condemnation of any poultry product "showing evidence of an abnormal physiologic state."

FSIS's argument, in addition to having no basis in the statutory or regulatory text, is inconsistent with the USDA's regulation of other animal food products, where the USDA has stated that a fatty and degenerated liver in livestock necessarily constitutes a diseased state.

Eight years have passed since ALDF first alerted the USDA to the serious human health risks implicated by foie gras consumption. In light of these risks, as well as the existing legal framework prohibiting adulterated poultry products, we are optimistic that our argument will lead the United States to join the 14 countries that already ban the inherent cruelty of force-fed foie gras.