Is Foie Gras Torture?

For now, protesters haven't been showing up outside Brassel's apartment or threatening his customers. But, as Mark Caro recounts in his book The Foie Gras Wars, due out in March, these tactics have recently been used by activists in Philadelphia. In one case, the general manager of a restaurant recalled that a protester screamed at a customer, "You should die of cancer!" and another restaurateur recounted that protesters would yell, "We know where you live, and we're gonna get you!" Sometimes, the protesters would actually show up in the neighborhood, or a child would come home saying that someone told her that her father murders ducks.

Why are activists so devoted to this issue? Most of the organizations against foie gras also advocate vegetarianism or veganism. If you generally oppose the manipulation of animals for food, you're going to oppose foie gras all the more, because the production does manipulate the animal more than usual. Manipulation does not necessarily equal abuse, though. But it's manipulation of a different sort that is at work in the videos I watched before my Hudson Valley visit. Those images are not representative of the reality at the nation's largest foie gras farm.

The fact that foie gras is delicious is nice, but it is also besides the point. If hanging puppies by their ears and cutting off their paws produced the most fantastic meat imaginable, I wouldn't eat it and neither would you. Just because we eat animals doesn't mean that we don't draw lines about the welfare of the animals we're going to eat. I support humanely raised (not penned) veal, and I buy cage-free eggs. I don't think it's OK to cut the fin off a shark and throw it back into the water. Personally, I would avoid foie gras from the producers in France and Canada that use individual cages. The fact that some industrial farms elsewhere are making foie gras in inhumane ways doesn't mean that all foie gras production is inhumane. You can buy humanely raised chicken, or you can buy chicken that's had a nasty, brutal life. The same goes for foie gras.

Henley with nine-week-old ducks.
Amol Mhatre
Henley with nine-week-old ducks.
The farm at daybreak.
Amol Mhatre
The farm at daybreak.


How Foie Gras Gets Made
Photos of the whole process at Hudson Valley
by Amol Mhatre

If I had seen with my own eyes that Hudson Valley produced foie gras by abusing ducks, this article would have turned out very differently. But that just wasn't the case.
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My boyfriend and I visited this farm, because we were in the area and he was interested.  He orders from them all the time. They will deliver to your home.  We got a mini-tour.  We had to be quiet, so as not to disturb the ducks, who seemed contentedly calm.  The ducks were not in cages. We were told the ducks didn't have to be force fed, that they would overeat on their own if given the opportunity.  These are creatures raised for food; how humane do we have to be before we kill them? All the people who are donating to the Humane Society, look where your money is going, on harassing this poor farmer. This was a nice clean place--definitely not an abusive factory farm.  I read that the farmer's intent from the beginning was to raise ducks humanely.  It really was a pleasure visiting the farm.   


Hudson Valley Foie Gras's policies reflect the efforts of animal rights advocates. And now it seems that this facility has become very vested in being humane; it is a source of pride (Thank you Humane Society, ASPCA, PETA, and individual protesters).


If Hudson Valley Foie Gras’s relatively humane practices result in high profits (the reason Grandin’s practices have been widely accepted is that humane treatment of animals does result in higher quality, safer products leading to higher profits) then perhaps more farms will follow suit. All of our animals need to be raised at least as humanely.


We need to continue to demand higher standards for all of our farms; for all of our animals. We need to continue to be animal rights advocates, if not for compassion, at least for quality and safety for human consumption. Sarah DiGregorio (“You can buy humanely raised chicken, or you can buy chicken that's had a nasty, brutal life. The same goes for foie gras.”) must recognize that the huge majority of farm animals consumed in the USA lead lives of horror and contamination, resulting in a dangerous food source (bad karma?). Most American simply turn a blind eye and ridicule a vegan instead. I hope she pursues this end.


Sarah DiGregorio neglected to address the quality of food fed to these ducks. The liver filters, biotransforms, and accumulates toxins. Consuming livers of animals gavaged with products loaded with pesticides is kinda gross. Maybe Hudson Valley Foie Gras can respond to this issue.



@EselpeeNo, the animal rights groups do not get credit for improved conditions at farms because their entire agenda is to shut down all businesses that work with animals in any form, and they state this very clearly in their objectives.

Animal Rights means equal rights with human beings (also animals).  Animal welfare means taking proper care of the animals.  I grew up in farm country and farmers who take better care of their animals, provide for the welfare of the animals, always do better.  Healthy animals produce more and better meats and other animal products.

Animal rights groups have always looked for the worst abuser they can find and label an entire industry as being equal to the worst.  They have also been caught many times staging their footage and even committing the worst offenses themselves to fake their documentaries.

I don't despise vegans and vegetarians, they are free to eat what they wish, but I do despise those who presume to tell me I must eat as they choose to.  They do not understand how nature works, or that people are part of nature, and that in nature animals and insects are often eaten alive or torn apart while alive to be eaten by other animals.  They do not live wonderful lives and die of old age.

Humans are generally far more humane in their treatment of their food sources.  Animal rights groups need to stop accusing us all of being sadists.