“I happen to think that foie gras is one of the most delicious things on earth,” Anthony Bourdain told the camera before a truth-finding trip to New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras for his Christmas special in 2007. “And yet strangely enough, a few twisted, angry people would like to take your foie gras away.”
This week, Mercy for Animals, like Bourdain, released a video of ducks being force-fed at Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the country’s largest producer of foie gras and supplier to Amazon.com. MFA’s investigation yielded a very different set of findings from Bourdain’s–and now they’re putting pressure on Seattle-based Amazon.com to ban the sale of foie gras online.
“Amazon is the No. 1 online retailer in the world, and we feel like they have an ethical responsibility to take a stand against egregious animal abuse and ban foie gras,” Ari Solomon, Mercy for Animals’ director of communication, tells the Voice.
The Mercy for Animals video shows disturbing footage of stressed-out ducks squawking in pens, having their throats slit while conscious, and dead ones being tossed in bins. The video also highlights the process of force-feeding itself, in which a metal tube is shoved down a duck’s esophagus.
“This overfeeding will lead to liver enlargement and malfunction, causing chronic metabolic dysfunction and illness. The ducks at this facility, therefore, are being subjected to extremely inhumane conditions causing them to suffer greatly,” Dr. Nedim Buyukmihci, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis, wrote in a statement for Mercy for Animals.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras, meanwhile, has also posted a video of its feeding practices, and maintains that its methods are ethical and transparent. “Because it’s controversial, we show people information,” Hudson Valley Foie Gras operations manager Marcus Henley tells the Voice. “Our mortality rates are the same as any poultry farm in the country.”
Henley also pointed out that ducks’ digestive systems are structured differently from our own. The trachea and esophagus don’t connect in the back of the throat, for example, and ducks, whose windpipes are located on their tongues, don’t have gag reflexes. Henley maintains that because of this–and because ducks’ esophagi are also particularly tough–the metal pipes don’t hurt.
“I took some ducks home and raised them with my granddaughter,” Henley said. “We have a stream out back and catch crayfish and feed them to the ducks. They would swallow them whole.”
Mercy for Animals disagrees. “Many believe [force-feeding] does cause them pain and distress. The workers themselves admit that many die from the force-feeding process,” Solomon says.
The Mercy for Animals video also documented a duck whose throat was slit while the animal remained conscious.
“We have stunners at every station,” Henley said, adding that a USDA inspector also oversees the process. “I’m not sure what happened there. I wouldn’t expect that to happen.” Henley doesn’t know what happened to the duck with blood on its chest either, but argues that out of the 100,000 ducks the facility processes, that image was taken out of context.
State Senator Tony Avella has also introduced legislation to ban the practice of force-feeding ducks in New York. Senate Bill 456 would make the process used to produce foie gras–by hand or machine–a class-A misdemeanor. This isn’t the first time Avella’s fought for a foie gras ban. In 2008, he alsourged the City Council to adopt a resolution making force-feeding verboten.
Amazon did not respond for comment by press time.