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In Defense of Foie Gras


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Foie gras is a product that is legal to produce and sell, thanks to the overseeing USDA. They approve the food for legal sale, and they are a federal institution. I was under the impression that city laws don't get to contradict federal laws ["When Activists Attack" by Mick Dumke, June 22]. Even more foolish is that a banned-city restaurant owner can purchase foie gras legally from another city, but can't sell it back (although it can be legally given away for free).

Now we come to the main fight: is it cruelty? PETA's main argument is that the foie gras method is cruel and painful. Their only evidence is a video showing a farmer forcefully overfeeding a duck, possibly playing some sappy or bone-chilling music for added effect. They're only offering sizzle, because they can't offer you the steak. Luckily, I've not only got steak on my side, I've got actual facts and science and objective data. You know, things we should be basing decisions on (as opposed to dramatic black-and-white effects).

First off, we'll tackle the easy matter of them being kept in cages as being "cruel." Well, the facts tell us that for the first 12-14 weeks, the ducks and geese are neither force-fed nor are they in cages at all; wandering around in grassy areas. It's only the last 2-4 weeks that they are put in a cage--which is only done for the feedings--and then are allowed to go back out and roam as free as either the wind blows or the grass grows.

So now we get to the "painful" force-feeding done to fatten up those tasty livers before harvest time. I pose to you, the Reader, a question: If you had to undergo a painful process every day that was traumatic, what would you do? (I'll answer for you, and hopefully you'll agree with at least one of the answers.) I'm guessing that you would:

(1) Not like it. (Sadomasochism aside, you would not enjoy feeling pain or trauma.)

(2) Not want to go back to the place where the traumatic pain happened.

(3) Not want to go near the person/item that did this painful trauma to you.

(4) Not do the painful traumatic act to yourself, since you obviously don't like it when someone else does it to you.

In exemplum, if a bully beat you up after school in the parking lot, you might cry because you got beaten up, avoid both the bully and maybe also that parking lot, and you would not beat yourself up--because you obviously don't like getting beaten up.

Enter the evidence.

Scientists did a study. These are scientists with actual numbers and data and logical reasoning (rather than sappy videos/pictures trying to "make a point"). Real evidence and facts backed up with proof. The kind you'd hope to see in a real debate.

(1) When the brain undergoes stress and/or pain, it shoots out corticosterone. And when they tested the corticosterone levels of these roaming-free ducks and geese during their first force-feeding in the cages and two more force-feedings, there was no significant increase in corticosterone. They also made sure that they were testing correctly and the ducks were able to produce corticosterone by putting them in nets for 15 minutes, and sure enough, there was corticosterone and obvious stress. Nets are bad for ducks and they get stressed by being in them. As for force-feeding? Not really.

(2) When ducks and geese were studied after the initial force-feeding, ducks only showed a small amount of avoidance and geese showed no signs of avoidance at all. And over time, the avoidance measured in the ducks became shorter.

(3) When presented with a complete stranger rather than the usual caregiver, there was more aversion than with the caregiver--and both decreased greatly over time. So whether done by a stranger or familiar person, by the third feeding there was very little avoidance of the force-feedings.

(4) Ducks and geese naturally overfeed themselves! Geese will spontaneously overeat grass and carrots by themselves at levels of over 3 kilograms a day if left to their own devices. Ducks are not as large, but still undergo spontaneous hyperphagia (overeating) and can consume up to 750 grams when they do so. These are (not surprisingly) about the levels of overfeeding that the farmers force-feed them. So they're feeding them what they'd normally be eating when they overeat--they're just making sure that they do it.

So ducks and geese regularly overfeed themselves, and when farmers make sure they do it, they neither become afraid of the farmers or the cages where it happens, nor do they show significant signs of pain or stress when it happens!

The defense rests, Your Honor.

Now it's time for you, the jury, to deliberate. Animal rights groups present you with scary and mean-spirited video footage and pictures of a farmer force-feeding ducks. And while it may look painful to you, remember the fact that it isn't painful to the animals. The activists play on your emotions. Science plays on the truth. And while you may not like the methods used (in spite of the facts saying it's not cruel), you admittedly have the right to not eat/buy/cook foie gras. And guess what? If you have the right to not eat it, isn't it only natural that other people have the right to eat it?

Aaron Samuels


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