June 13th, 2012
05:30 PM ET
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In cooking, the process of clarification entails straining out extraneous muck from liquids so that they might be pure, clear and ideal for consumption. With this series on food terminology and issues we're attempting to do the same.

It takes two hours to get to Hudson Valley Foie Gras from New York City, but it only takes two seconds on-premise to see the looming foie gras ban in California has ruffled Izzy Yanay’s feathers.

“It looks horrible and has a French name – which is already a very bad thing. Nobody needs to eat foie gras and it’s very expensive, so it’s a very easy target,” said Yanay.

Yanay is the General Manager and Vice President of Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, New York. The 200-acre farm is the premier producer of foie gras in the United States, and provides the controversial delicacy to top chefs like Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Foie gras (pronounced “fwah grah”) is the fatty liver of a force-fed waterfowl, either geese or - in most cases in the United States - ducks. The delicacy is a golden egg for producers, retailing on average at approximately $50 per pound.

In 2004, California passed a law that gave the foie gras industry an eight-year grace period - until July 2012 - to figure out an alternative to force-feeding waterfowl. The bill, SB 1520, was written by Democrat John Burton.

“The time has come for this humane and common-sense law to finally take effect. Many years have passed since the Legislature discussed this important issue. We don't need to re-debate the cruelty of force-feeding. For the sake of animals and the Californians who care about them, we should simply celebrate that the 7 1/2 years of waiting is almost over,” said Burton in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed.

With the July 1 deadline less than a month away, foie gras enthusiasts are scrambling for a repeal.

Part of that effort includes transparency by foie gras producers, by urging skeptics and supporters alike to witness the process first-hand.

“If you are so concerned, come and see it for yourself. You draw your own conclusions,” said Yanay.

Taking his advice, here’s what I found during a recent site visit:

All the ducks at Hudson Valley are Moulard male, a hybrid of male Muscovy and female Pekin ducks. The farm sends its female ducklings to Trinidad to be raised for meat because the males produce a fattier, and thus more profitable, liver.

This all-male practice follows the standards of the Comité Interprofessionnel des Palmipèdes à Foie Gras, a trade association that represents France’s professionals in the “fattened poultry sector.”

“The limiting of the appellation of duck ‘Foie Gras’ to fattened male ducks only, [is] in keeping with tradition but also to improve quality,” said the association.

At three months old, the ducks are transferred from the free-feeding barns where they were hatched and matured to pens where their force-feeding regimen will begin.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras advertises its products as “cage-free.” Under USDA regulations, cage-free does not mean the birds have access to the outdoors, but that they can freely roam within a confined area. Cage-free is not synonymous with free-range.

Here, approximately 11 ducks are stored in each four-by-six-foot, open-topped pen.

The force-feeding procedure, known as “gavage,” involves holding the duck by the neck and dropping pellets of food into what’s known as the duck’s “crop” by a tube. The crop is located in the lower neck area of the duck and is essentially a storage tank for food.

During this stage of production, the ducks are force-fed 10 to 12 ounces of pellets, three times a day. The pellets are a mixture of corn, soybean, oatmeal and added vitamins and minerals.

Each feeding lasts approximately 12 seconds, and is done by the same feeder every day for a maximum of 21 days.

“They’re fed by the same person because they’re more relaxed and under less stress,” said Dr. Lawrence W. Bartholf, a veterinarian on-site during the foie farm tour. Bartholf works independently from the farm, but does often accompany visitors on farm tours and is a New York State Veterinary Medical Society spokesman for the Hudson Valley. He was compensated for accompanying the tour.

At the time of the feeding, the ducks huddled to the corner away from the feeder. After their turn on the feeding tube, they waddled – seemingly unperturbed – away.

“It’s a non-event for these birds because their esophagus is not sensitive like ours. Their esophagus is flexible enough and durable enough that it would tolerate a struggling fish and all its spines,” said Bartholf.

However, animal-rights activists lambast these claims and staunchly assert that force-feeding is inhumane.

“Most injuries caused by tissue damage during handling or tube insertion would result in pain. The oropharyngeal area is particularly sensitive and is physiologically adapted to perform a gag reflex in order to prevent fluids entering the trachea. Force feeding will have to overcome this reflex and hence the birds may initially find this distressing and injury may result,” advised the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW).

Before each feeding, the handlers palpate the duck’s throat for the presence of pellets; if they feel the last meal, they will skip the next feeding because the bird didn’t digest the last meal. If pellets are detected, the bird is marked with a blue dot.

Eight hours later, if pellets are still felt in the marked bird at the next feeding, this means the bird has reached its genetic potential for liver size, and it goes to the abattoir, or slaughterhouse.

At the slaughterhouse, the ducks are shocked with electrified water to stun them so that they are rendered unconscious. From there, their throats are slit to allow all the blood to drain from the animal.

“The heart has to continue beating so when the throat is cut, blood pumps out for a time. This is standard in all animal slaughter, although some religious customs preclude stunning. We are not comfortable with that. The bird has to be alive at the point where the throat is cut so the blood pumps out,” said Marcus Henley, the operations manager of Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

“Blood left in the animal will cause spoilage and an animal not properly bled will be identified and rejected by the USDA inspectors. After stunning, the birds never feel pain and do not wake up,” he continued. Waterbath stunning is a common practice in the poultry industry.

From there, the birds are cleaned, plucked and frozen overnight. The next day, the ducks are butchered for the foie gras and the other parts of duck Hudson Valley distributes - like the legs, thighs, breasts and fat.

While the ban in California has become highly publicized, the state is certainly not the first to move forward with such legislation: The production of foie gras is currently prohibited in more than a dozen countries, including Israel, Denmark, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also does not support the practice.

“The production of fatty liver for foie gras however raises serious animal welfare issues and it is not a practice that is condoned by FAO,” states the organization.

When asked why the ducks would not overfeed themselves naturally, Bartholf said ducks rely on external stimuli for three events: “egg-laying, migration and getting ready for a period of starvation.”

In the controlled environment of the farm, ducks don’t have these natural triggers.

In a recent TED talk, Dan Barber spotlighted a Spanish chef, Eduardo Sousa, who is raising geese for foie gras without force feeding - allowing them to feed freely off his farm’s land and slaughtering the birds right before migration, when the animals have naturally fattened up their livers.

No farm in the United States has successfully replicated this practice and thus, they still rely on force-feeding.

Despite the almost certain probability that the ban will go in effect on July 1, Yanay is convinced the force behind force-feeding will prevail, and the ban will ultimately be overturned.

“We’re going to win. Trust me, we’re going to win,” said Yanay.

Editor's Note: Eatocracy visited Hudson Valley Foie Gras as a guest of D'Artagnan, a vendor of the farm's foie gras.



soundoff (639 Responses)
  1. James Peterson

    While I haven't been to a foie gras farm–I'm working on it–my impression from my reading is that gavage causes the ducks discomfort, but not agony. As a number of readers have pointed out, foie gras ducks have it a lot better than most domesticated animals in this country. I'm not using this as an argument for eating foie gras, but wonder why foie gras has been targeted (French? Effete? Expensive?) when there are so many much more cruel practices out there. If we're going to eat meat, we must use all our effort to make raising animals as humane as possible. I suspect foie gras has been outlawed because the poor single farmer didn't have enough money or political clout, as do the big poultry companies, to save himself.

    February 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  2. Ann

    Anyone else notice all the articles recently about Guantanamo Bay, and the uproar about force-feeding inmates because it's been labled as torture?

    If it's torture for a terrorist suspect, then I'm pretty sure it's torture for an animal too. Same practice.

    Maybe you don't care if animals are tortured for your meal. I do. I won't eat the stuff.

    June 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Reply
    • Bjork

      What about the rest of meat production and handling in the states...? Most of the pork available in the grocery store has been cruelly barred down, unable to move or turn, fed grains mixed with animal byproducts...

      July 20, 2013 at 12:17 am | Reply
  3. Nowye

    I'm definetly a carnivore but that just goes way too far. I see nothing wrong with eating meat but you don't need to tortcher the poor things.

    December 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  4. Dan

    Had a foie gras and horse bologna grilled cheese sandwich in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. DEE-LISH!

    June 20, 2012 at 8:47 am | Reply
  5. bbz

    Look around you, people! Fat Americans everywhere! Over half of us are overweight. That means there are many, many fatty livers out there. Livers regenerate. Just a little shock........a quick and deft incision....slice a third of a liver off, feed the family faux gras........six weeks later you're ready to repeat the process. Why bother the poor ducks.

    June 20, 2012 at 4:06 am | Reply
    • Jackie

      Intelligent and funny argument. I love it!

      September 1, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  6. Jim L

    They are born to be fed and killed. Would it be better not to be born? Sounds too deep a discussion for a duck.

    Read the article. See the farm. This is NOT torture, and there is no discomfort for either the ducks or the feeders.

    And Foie Gras is delicious.

    It's good to be king of the food chain.

    June 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Texas134you

      Quack quack quack. Quack. Quack. Ow! Ow! Ow! Quaaaaaaaaackk!

      June 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Reply
    • Jackie

      You're an eff ing IDIOT.

      June 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Reply
    • TruthisKnowledge

      If you live a life of fear and possible torture, than maybe it is better not to be born. There's nothing great about being the king of the food chain if you have no compassion toward the creatures we sacrifice for our culinary pleasures. To me, that makes us lower on the chain, in terms of our sense of humanity and morality.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
      • Ed

        Is it more compassionate to eat all the parts of the animal that has given his life to sustain yours or to throw away the parts that you simply find (in your own personal opinion which are no better than anybody elses) objectionable?

        June 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Reply
        • Hi

          So we would torture them to enlarge their livers to justify eating that particular part? I guess I don't understand your logic, sorry.

          June 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
        • Ed

          @Hi, first off you have to actually believe they are being tortured. That was the part about having an opinion. As the observer/reporter noted "After their turn on the feeding tube, they waddled – seemingly unperturbed – away." I can't find any part of the definition of torture being applied to these birds. I don't think they are being hurt if they waddle away seeminly unperturbed. It's more likely that dairy cows are being subjected to actual torture. I don't think the birds are being treated with any less respect than any other animal destined to be on someone's dinner table.

          June 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  7. free_range

    How many people opposed to foie gras will eat an economy chicken from the grocery store? Foie Gras ducks have it so much better than chickens in tiny cages. Lets start focusing on the real problems and let the foie gras farmers raising free range ducks be..

    June 19, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Reply
    • Bjork

      Like.

      July 20, 2013 at 12:21 am | Reply
  8. JoeTheDuckEater

    They are food for crying out loud. Who cares how they are fed or how they live as long as they taste good in the end.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
    • TruthisKnowledge

      Apparently the three countries that have banned the practice and the legislators in California.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Reply
    • yt

      lets figure out a way to painlessly slaughter cow, and make sure the slaughtered chickens and ducks think they are heading for better place before you kill them.... why process matter? you are killing them to EAT at the end, unless you are vegen, BUT HEY, vegetables are a FORM OF LIFE AS WELL, because vegetable cant make a sound doesnt mean they are not in pain when you cut them into your salad bowl!

      June 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Reply
      • Dolphintam

        wow,this comment has to take the cake as far as ignorance and cruelty is concerned.I could try and educate you but of course,you probably think you're the cat's meow so I won't even bother wasting my time.But that comment on the vegetables "feeling pain"??you really showed the world your 2-digit IQ on that one.Vegetables and plants have no central nervous system and therefore CANNOT FEEL PAIN,you ignorant sub-specimen!' nuff said...

        June 20, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
      • Chris

        Hey YT, I don't think your comment is ignorant at all. Here's an interesting read: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/science/15food.html?pagewanted=all

        June 20, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  9. Mark Glicker

    We are a land of gluttony.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  10. torylynn

    I can't believe all the ridiculous comments. I'm off to make some toast and have some fois gras for my breakfast!

    June 19, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
  11. Epicure1

    If I did not already disagree with the process of gavage, and therefore avoid foie gras, after reading the arrogant, ignorant quotes from Mr. Yanay from the Hudson Valley, this would surely sway me to avoid ESPECIALLY foie gras from his facility. First, why would the fact that a product is of French origin deter consumers? The French are responsible for some of the finest cuisine in the world. I'm willing ot be that Mr. Yanay has either never held a conversation with a French person in French (thereby showing a willingness to truly understand others) or visited France where he would've learned what warm, welcoming people the French are. And second, how can Yanay possibly know if gavage hurts the ducks, does he speak duck, too?

    June 19, 2012 at 10:12 am | Reply
    • TruthisKnowledge

      Agreed; I noticed that too. And of course, it behooves him to say that it doesn't hurt the ducks, since he's the one in the foie gras business.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
    • Ed

      "First, why would the fact that a product is of French origin deter consumers?" – Because in the USA we all know that stupid people would rather eat Freedom Fries and say the French are bad (those same people can only use three letter words.) Mr. Yanay did not say anything at about his his opions of the French, only about what common Americans think. Indeed he respects the process that is derived by the French as the classic method to use.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  12. trollol

    Someone needs to engineer an ultra addictive food product for ducks. That way, they can fatten themselves up without the scrutiny of animal cruelty. Fact is, we raise farm animals so we can eat them. Sympathizing for the animals then eating them doesn't seem to fit well together.

    June 19, 2012 at 12:53 am | Reply
    • TruthisKnowledge

      If we're going to eat them, we can at least make their lives as cruelty-free as possible. No need to torture your meat before eating it.

      June 19, 2012 at 8:51 am | Reply
      • yt

        are you saying we should not put a knife into the chicken or beef before we eat them? the killing process isnt painful?

        June 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Reply
        • TruthisKnowledge

          I did not say that at all, yt. Not sure why you're trying to speak for me.

          June 21, 2012 at 8:43 am |
        • TruthisKnowledge

          yt, sorry, my reply came off as peevish and I apologize for that. I misread your comment and replied too fast, sorry. I think the killing process can be made as quick and painless as possible. Temple Grandin is an animal specialist that works to make the slaughter process humane, so the animals don't panic or feel anything. Ideally, we could grow meat in a lab and not worry about it, LOL, but it's unrealistic to think that either people will give up meat (so we don't have to worry about slaughter) or will eat "artificial" meat.

          June 21, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  13. Stop Factory Farms

    There is a crucial fact missing here: What percentage of ducks die as a result of Hudson's 28-day force feeding regime before its time to slaughter them? I'd like to see some hard numbers and I suspect that number is very high.

    June 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Reply
    • KnowledgeisPower

      Good question, plus what's going on at other places that produce foie gras? This article centers on Hudson Valley in what sounds like a single controlled visit.

      June 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  14. mittsformitt

    I'm confused. What's the question? They're FORCE FEEDING an animal to fatten it up. How is there any ambiguity about whether this is cruel? Let's not pose questions that have obvious answers to give ourselves the opportunity to justify cruelty. Is it cruel to FORCE an animal to fight with another animal because it makes us money? How about FORCING an animal to do tricks for us because it makes us laugh? Just because overweight, indulgent Americans like the taste of something doesn't mean we should find a way to justify the patent cruelty associated with it. Compassion should always outweigh profit and gluttony.

    June 18, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Reply
    • JohDoe

      Meh... whatever. The French obviously love it, too... and the animals are going to be slaughtered anyways. Next...

      June 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Reply
      • mittsformitt

        How enlightened. We should use the same justification for abusing children and other people. Meh we're all going to die anyway.

        June 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
        • Karly The Great

          Seriously meh...I agree. Its a frikkin duck and will be slaughtered for food anyway. There are bigger issues to deal with.If this really were the biggest issue facing our country we should all be so lucky.

          June 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
        • torylynn

          wish I could "thumbs up" some of these answers. Urban dwellers have such a misperception of animals and completely over-personificate them. I don't see how the force feeding process for ducks can compare to abusing children. We force children to go to the dentist and get vaccines also – is that abuse? I force my horse to stand still while being shod, and my dog has to sit even when she doesn't want to. Is that abuse? If I could force feed my goat to help her gain weight I would. Seriously, feeding a duck pellets they would not normally eat on their on is NOT abuse! Stunning an animal to slaughter it humanly is NOT abuse. I don't get why animal activists are out to put an end to all animal production! I will continue to raise and eat my ducks, chickens, eggs, cows, etc. I feel sorry for everyone whose opportunity to do so is becoming more and more limited because a fraction of the population thinks we should treat animals like little people.

          June 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
        • TruthisKnowledge

          torylynn, I grew up on a farm and I consider myself an animal advocate. I'm not sure why people who are interested in the welfare of animals are often termed "city dwellers" or "urbanites." All I'm asking is that if we're going to eat meat, we try to make the short lives of this animals as cruelty-free as possible. Surely you can't disagree with that? Also, you're comparing apples to oranges. Horses have to have their feet worked on for their own health. Children need medical care. Training your dog to sit gives him/her good manners and makes life safer and more pleasant for everyone. If your goat is starving, sure you're going to force feed it to save its life. Ducks do not require over-feeding to be healthy or to live, unless they're ramping up for migration, which, unlike having a pipe shoved down their throats, is a natural phenomenon.

          June 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Do you really think that this food started here in the States? Seriously? Read the name of it again, and then please sound it out. Use your words. Now ... after we have THAT settled, why are you so quick to make sure we treat animals humanely? They aren't humans, and we should worry about people first, and let animals be food. Like they are in nature. You are complaining about their poor diet conditions before they become dinner? Wow.

      June 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
    • KnowledgeisPower

      For me, if there's any doubt that cruelty is involved, it's just not worth it. There's so much debate about this and no one can seem to prove that this can be done humanely, let alone done humanely on a large scale. It's just not worth doing it if everyone is confused about whether or not it's humane. It certainly doesn't sound humane or look humane. My feeling is, we overweight Americans don't need another hunk of food on our plate, especially a luxury item for which possibly animals have to endure unusual suffering for us to "enjoy."

      June 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
    • KnowledgeisPower

      For me, if there's any doubt that cruelty is involved, it's just not worth it. There's so much debate about this and no one can seem to prove that this can be done humanely, let alone done humanely on a large scale. It's just not worth doing it if everyone is confused about whether or not it's humane. It certainly doesn't sound humane or look humane. My feeling is, we overweight Americans don't need another hunk of food on our plate, especially a luxury item for which possibly animals have to endure unusual suffering for us to "enjoy."

      June 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
    • Really

      Mitts–seriously? You think because you think it's bad it must be solely American? No other country in the WORLD does anything you would consider bad, it's just those stupid, evil Americans, right? The great thing about being American is that you get to have that uniformed opinion. And those who want to eat fois gras, can eat fois gras–because it's not all about you.

      June 18, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Reply
    • Ravenheart

      I agree Truth. I grew up in the country surrounded by farmers and hunters for almost all my life. It does not mean I do not care for animal welfare, if anything, I feel I care MORE for animals being raised around livestock. Foie gras is one food we can do without. And you CAN kill an animal humanely. Decapitation is quick, cutting major arteries is quick. And read Temple Grandin's work. She CREATES slaughtering pens for cattle, for goodness sake, and yet she is one of the best authorities today on animal welfare.

      These are animals that feed us. We SHOULD respect the life that nourishes our own. And look around and online. Not one veterinarian I have worked for approved of foie gras production. It's a despicable practice that should end. And I'm sick of that absurd rhetoric that "we have more to worry about". This world is not a zero-sum game. You can care about human rights abuses in Cuba and at the same time care about where you diamonds come from, or how pigs are slaughtered and all at the same time.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  15. Bob Gore

    I beat my chicken night after night. Is that considered foul play?

    June 18, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
    • AceRyder

      The proper term is "choke;" you choke your chicken, you don't beat it. You beat your meat.

      June 18, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
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