09/04/2013 04:56 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2013

Ducks Have Law -- and Right -- on Their Side

When California's groundbreaking ban on the production and sale of foie gras went into effect last year after a seven-year grace period, the foie gras industry acted like it had been ambushed like an, ahem, sitting duck. It vowed to sue, claiming the law was too "vague." Former state Senator John Burton, who spearheaded the ban, had no patience for such posturing.

"They've had all this time to figure it out and come up with a more humane way," he said. "I'd like to sit ... them down and have duck and goose fat -- better yet, dry oatmeal -- shoved down their throats over and over and over again."

Last Friday, a federal appeals court figuratively shoved corn mash down the foie gras industry's collective throat when it unanimously rejected a bid by a southern California restaurant, Hot's Kitchen, and out-of-state foie gras producers, including New York's Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG), to strike down the law.

This is the second setback this month for HVFG, which recently agreed to remove the word "humane" from its website after being sued by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the maker of Faux Gras, who claimed that by falsely calling its foie gras "humane," HVFG was steering customers away from truly humane vegan products.

Just how "humane" is HVFG? Earlier this year, a PETA investigator documented that, prior to force-feeding, ducklings are crammed by the thousands into huge warehouse-like sheds without so much as a puddle to swim in.

Ducks at HVFG start the force-feeding process when they are just 9 to 12 weeks old, at which point they are transferred to wire pens. Up to a dozen birds are confined to a pen measuring just four feet by six feet. Workers were documented dragging terrified ducks by their necks along the wire floor and pinning the ducks between their legs before ramming metal tubes down their throats and pumping food into their stomachs.

Another investigation at HVFG by Mercy for Animals released just weeks after PETA's investigation reiterated our findings and also documented that birds were suffering from bloody wounds. Workers were caught on videotape admitting that force-feeding can kill ducks. "Sometimes the duck doesn't get up and it dies," said one worker. "There have been times that 20 ducks were killed."

By HVFG's own calculations, some 15,000 ducks on the farm die every year before they can be slaughtered, an average of 41 birds a day. Those ducks who do survive long enough to be slaughtered are killed on site, where PETA's investigator documented at least one bird still moving after his throat had been cut.

The third plaintiff in the lawsuit was a Canadian nonprofit organization representing several foie gras producers, including Rougié, the self-proclaimed "world's #1 producer of foie gras." PETA recently documented horrendous cruelty at a farm outside Montréal owned by Rougié's North American affiliate, Palmex, Inc. PETA videotaped ducks lined up in rows of coffin-like cages that encase the ducks' bodies like vices. The birds' heads and necks protrude through small openings to allow for ease of force-feeding. The birds can do little more than stand, try to lie down, and turn their heads. They cannot so much as spread a single wing.

Palmex supplies foie gras to Hot's Kitchen, which continued to sell foie gras in violation of the ban after the law went into effect. PETA has sued Hot's Kitchen to force it to stop serving foie gras, and we're confident that the ducks will emerge the winners in that lawsuit as well.

At this point, one is tempted to advise duck abusers to cut their losses and go jump in a lake. Heaven knows that's all the ducks want to do.