Restaurants, Legislators Say Au Revoir to Foie Gras

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The production of foie gras, French for "fatty liver", is banned in 15 countries. A similar prohibition against oversized duck liver is pending in California. At home, nearly a dozen local restaurants this year have tried to make Pittsburgh "Foie Gras Free."

"The process of ramming metal tubes down ducks' throats and then forcing air and food into them constantly is cruelty to animals," said John Burton, president pro tem of the California Senate and sponsor of the foie gras bill, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Foie gras producers pump a third of the birds' body weight directly into their digestive systems with a long metal pipe several times daily. The animals' livers grow to be about 10 times their healthy size. The animals --- about 500,000 of them each year in the U.S. alone --- are confined in filth where they are unable to swim, nest, graze, fly, or carry out other natural behavior. Ducks can live for up to 18 years, but they are slaughtered for foie gras within four months of birth.

This force-feeding results in hepatic lipidosis, a type of liver disease. If eating a bile-secreting organ is not gross on its own, foie gras is truly sick.

People everywhere now grasp just how intolerable foie gras force-feeding is. Although Israel is the third-leading producer of foie gras in the world, its ban goes into effect in 2005. Even in industry leader France, new legislation will improve the animal welfare standards in foie gras production by the end of this year.

California is one of only two U.S. states where foie gras is produced. The foie gras issue generated more letters to the state's Senate Business and Professions Committee than any other issue this year. After decisive approval in both the Senate and Assembly, some insiders say that Gov. Schwarzenegger is likely to sign the ban into law this month.

With this growing consciousness about foie gras production, it is no wonder so many Pittsburgh restaurants have pledged no longer to sell foie gras.

The local animal rights group Voices for Animals (VFA) began contacting local restaurants in January regarding their sales of foie gras. Steelhead Grill replied it had removed the dish from its menu. Since then, VFA has met with and persuaded eight other restaurants to stop selling gourmet cruelty.

VFA's "Foie Gras-Free Pittsburgh" campaign has had amazing success in educating restaurants and consumers about foie gras. After protesting outside Bikki for just one half-hour in July, the activists received a satisfying note signed by owner Bikki Kochar: "Foie gras will no longer be served at Bikki Restaurant. It will be taken off the menu immediately."

Other local restaurants simply stopped selling foie gras after meeting with VFA members. Bill Fuller, corporate chef of the Big Burrito Group, acknowledged that other restaurant-goers had also complained about the sale of foie gras. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Fuller said he will not serve foie gras unless the ducks are treated humanely. Kaya, Eleven, and two of Big Burrito's other restaurants ended their sales of foie gras.

VFA is currently trying to negotiate with Le Pommier, Laforet, and Bona Terra to stop serving foie gras. Le Pommier's management announced last month that it has removed foie gras from its menu, at least temporarily, until its executive chef visits a foie gras farm himself.

Foie gras is a despicable example of cruelty to animals, as has become so common in modern factory-farming. Restaurants and governments across the globe have made the compassionate decision to say au revoir to foie gras. Hopefully, more local dining establishments will follow this trend.