04/02/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Go With Your Gut: Foie Gras No Worse Than the Rest


One of two surviving ducks gets cleaned up at Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Last week, Catskill Animal Sanctuary received a call from the Kingston State Trooper barracks about four ducks whose crate had flown off a truck on Rt. 17, just outside the Hudson Valley Foie Gras factory in Ferndale, NY. A UPS driver who'd witnessed the crash had kindly delivered the birds to the police, who then called us.

Of the four filthy ducks, encrusted with caked food and covered with abrasions, one was dead. A second duck's beak was split in two, with half bent gruesomely backwards. Sanctuary manager Kathy Keefe drove the duck to the vet, where s/he was humanely euthanized, and brought both ducks back to CAS for burial.

The two remaining ducks are here with us now. We have cleaned them up; they are quarantined in a stall that's bedded daily with fresh straw. Once we know they're healthy, they'll be introduced to a small flock in a spacious enclosure with its own pond. Fate dealt these two a good hand.

We're not yet sure if the ducks are young males or females, whether they were from Hudson Valley Foie Gras or its neighbor, La Belle Farms, or whether they were on their way to be slaughtered for meat (the fate of females) or foie gras (the fate of males).

But there's plenty related to this rescue that we are sure about. For instance, we're sure that Hudson Valley Foie Gras describes itself as follows:

"We believe in providing conditions which allow for social interaction, exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress. For this reason, our ducks are maintained cage free.

The essence of farming is caring for animals...respect for our people, environmental stewardship and the care of our animals are the keys to producing the quality products chefs and cooking aficionados expect from Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

... Ducks are individually hand fed to produce our unique, signature foie gras. Our trained caretakers spend as much as four times caring for each animal as is the case in other foie gras farms."

If one were a duck being grown to be killed, in other words, one might choose to live his short life at HVGF.

We are also sure about these facts related to turning duck livers into foie gras:

1. Through force feeding 2 or 3 times daily, the liver is grown up to ten times its normal size.

2. Force feeding consists of workers restraining each duck by the neck, shoving a metal pipe down his throat, and pumping a corn mash into his stomach.

3. Force feeding can cause perforations of the throat, hemorrhaging, bruising and swelling, infections, and asphyxia (when food is improperly forced into the trachea). It can cause illnesses and diseases, skeletal disorders, wing fractures from rough handling, along with extreme discomfort -- including difficulty breathing.

4. Death rates for force-fed ducks are ten to twenty times higher than those of non-force fed ducks.

5. HVFG marketing materials suggest that the ducks are comfortable being force-fed. Their website states, "The reaction of the ducks to hand feeding is best illustrated by their ease with the caretakers. As we at Hudson Valley say: 'Let the duck himself show you!'" Look at this undercover video and "let the ducks show you."

Humans annually fatten 25 million ducks so that we can eat their diseased livers. The practice is considered so cruel that over a dozen countries have made the production of foie gras illegal, though sales of the product are not.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras is the nation's largest producer, killing 4,000 ducks each week and accounting for 80 percent of domestic sales. HVFG touts its "environmental stewardship," though it was found guilty in 2010 of multiple violations of the Clean Water Act. And it especially touts its caretaking of the ducks.

You may be thinking, "I'd never eat foie gras. It's too cruel," just as perhaps you don't eat veal ("they're babies"). I'd like to suggest that your choices, while well-intended, are misguided. It's not about the suffocating ducks. It's not about the baby calves, stolen from their moms. It's not about others you've chosen not to eat because... because? To feel righteous because you don't eat certain animals is a mistake. Half of all chickens born to the egg industry are ground up alive. The cows who give us milk are slaves. We steal their babies, hook them up to machines, and when they're used up, we kill them. The chicken you had for dinner was a baby, as was the bacon you had for breakfast. It's not about the ducks and the veal calves--it's about our species acting as if we're the only ones who matter, and the suffering and devastation that result from it.

The instinct behind your choice not to eat certain animals whom you know to be tortured is the right instinct. They're all tortured. Go with you gut... and go vegan.