Foie Gras Farming Challenge Defeated in Maine

Augusta, ME (March 11, 2009)

The Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry of the 124th Maine Legislature met today to vote on whether to prohibit foie gras farming in the State of Maine. After hearing both sides of the issue and studying materials provided by activists and foie gras farmers, the Committee voted unanimously “Not to Pass” the legislation. The legislation and the thinking behind it followed standard animal rights tactics. Legislation is proposed in an area where the farming practice is not done.

Legislators are encouraged to pass this the legislation as no one is affected and a vocal minority constituency, often backed by political donations, is appeased. The bill sponsor, Representative Alan Casavant, wrote: “I submitted the bill on behalf of a constituent…Since there are no facilities in Maine, and there is no discussion of such a facility, it appeared to be relatively neutral. Animal Rights groups are in agreement, as well as many members of the Legislature.”

Members of the Maine Restaurant Association who had visited Hudson Valley Foie Gras pointed out that the activist claims against foie gras are just not true. Further, Casavant’s position that the legislation is neutral was also not true.

Although sales of foie gras would still be permitted, sales would certainly be affected, in a difficult economic environment, by passage of the bill. Further, the passage would be used to justify similar legislation in other jurisdictions. In spite of the failure of the California politicians in enacting the 2012 ban on foie gras there, it seems that there are a lot of fair and conscientious legislators. Maine joins Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maryland in considering and rejecting legislation against foie gras.

Chicago Foie Gras Ban Repealed

Chicago (June 11, 2008)

Today foie gras is legally served in Chicago for the first time in two years. The Artisan Farmers Alliance celebrates the Chicago decision and recognizes the courage and work done to correct the ban by Mayor Daley and the Chicago City Council, the Illinois Restaurant Association and Chicago Chefs for Choice.

Perspective on the repeal is provided in the article, below, by David Snyder of the PhilaFoodie blog.

In view of the analysis provided by Mr. Snyder, it is surprising to see the actions of New York City Councilman Tony Avella. Today Mr. Avella, a New York City mayoral candidate, intends to announce a resolution calling for New York City Council support of a bill in the New York State Legislature that would ban the production of foie gras in New York. After the repeal in Chicago and the recent defeat of legislative efforts in Maryland and other states, what is Mr. Avella doing? Politically, the sponsors of foie gras bills at the city level have suffered. Alderman Joe Moore of Chicago, a multi-term member of the Chicago City Council and sponsor of the foie gras ban, was re-elected by his narrowest margin ever. Politicians who have expended their political capital on foie gras legislation have been criticized and ridiculed for failing to represent their constituents and address their real problems. If Mr. Avella is running for mayor of New York City, he has taken a wrong turn. Additionally, Mr. Avella, like the Chicago City Council prior to the ban, has not investigated the issue. He investigated one side of the issue. He has not talked to farmers, reviewed research supporting foie gras or visited foie gras farms. This is in contrast to visits to foie gras farms by several members of the New York Legislature, who have done responsible due diligence.

What Does Chicago’s Repeal of the Foie Gras Ban Mean for Philly?

Philadelphia (May 15, 2008)

Yesterday, by an overwhelming vote of 37-6, the Chicago City Council repealed its ban on the sale of foie gras. The ban has been a source of embarrassment for the city since it was passed in April 2006.

Philadelphia City Councilman Jack Kelly proposed a similar ban shortly after the now-repealed Chicago ban was passed. Kelly’s bill never made it out of the Committee for Licenses and Inspections. After narrowly wining re-election last fall, Kelly promised to lobby the newly-elected councilmen in January to support his bill. However, it is now halfway through May, Kelly’s bill has officially lapsed and we haven’t heard so much as a peep from Kelly.

The lack of legislative progress has not deterred Hugs for Puppies, the local activist group that has been spearheading protests in front of restaurants that serve foie gras. The group’s questionable protesting tactics essentially have resulted in a de facto foie gras ban in Philly. With the exception of Le Bec-Fin’s Georges Perrier, the Philly restaurant scene’s more vocal supporters, like Ansill’s Chef David Ansill, have taken foie gras off the menu for business reasons. Even London Grill’s Terry McNally, Philly’s foie gras poster woman, appears to have caved (a recent visit revealed that only the hanger steak with foie gras butter remains).

Chicago’s repeal is important for Philly because, among other things, it undercuts an argument on which activists have strongly relied to make their case for banning foie gras: Because other legislative bodies have banned foie gras, Philly should ban it, too.

This follow-the-crowd argument has always been flawed. The implication that one need only get in line and follow what others have done without independent scrutiny is inherently troubling. The argument also assumes, of course, that none of the bans were the product of activists’ bullying. [Ironically, the activist group Farm Sanctuary is claiming that Chicago’s repeal was caused by “pressure from political bullies and special interests.”] Plus, there’s never any mention of the fact that the numerous legislative bans proposed in the U.S. since Chicago’s ban was passed have either failed (e.g., Maryland) or have been buried somewhere in the legislative process to die a slow, quiet death.

But now the follow-the-crowd argument has lost its teeth. Chicago was critically important to the activists—it was the first and only U.S. city to ban foie gras and, they maintained, it legitimized a path for other cities to follow. However, after enduring two years of ridicule and now repealing the ban in a loud, lopsided, public display, Chicago now stands for something completely different—the foie gras ban was a mistake. California passed a ban four years ago that doesn’t become effective until 2012. However, after the more recent brouhaha in Chicago it’s unlikely that any U.S. city will ban foie gras now. More broadly, Chicago’s repeal also renews the debate as to whether it’s appropriate for local government to legislate what we put on our plate, at least in cases where there is no legitimate public interest to protect.

Chicago’s repeal should be the death knell for any proposed foie gras ban in Philly. Time will tell. But the real question isn’t whether Philly’s proposed ban (now lapsed) will officially be declared dead. The real question is: If it is declared dead, will the activists gracefully walk off the field and let us eat in peace?

MARYLAND LEGISLATURE REJECTS PROPOSED FOIE GRAS BAN

Annapolis, MD (Mar 10, 2008)

On March 10th, the Maryland legislature turned back an attempt advanced by animal rights groups to impose a ban on the production and sale of foie gras in that state. The proposed ban was rejected after being the subject of a Senate Committee hearing. Representatives of the Artisans Farmers Alliance and the Maryland Restaurant Association as well as the former President of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society all spoke against the merits of a proposed ban.

Two days after the March 4th hearing, Maryland House Delegate Tanya Shewell withdrew her bill. In the Senate, the bill’s sponsor, Senator Joan Carter Conway, backed away from the provisions that would have banned the sale and transport of foie gras, saying publicly, “We may have gone too far [with this]”. She expressed general reservations about the bill and said, “I have heard additional information about the foie gras process that has caused me to change my mind.”

The Maryland State Veterinarian, Dr. Guy Hohenhaus, opposed the bill on behalf of the State’s Department of Agriculture. He said at the hearing, “Previous deliberations by the AVMA and careful review of the science simply do not support a foie gras ban.”

Prior to the hearing, Melvin Thompson, Vice President of the Maryland Restaurant Association led a delegation of interested parties on a tour of the Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm in Sullivan County, NY, in order to provide for a first-hand inspection of the farming and feeding practices involved with foie gras.

“As the alleged ethical issues were raised by the animal rights activist community at the hearing, it was a powerful counterbalance for our members to provide testimony as to what they saw at Hudson Valley Foie Gras,” said Mr. Thompson. “When we visited the Hudson Valley farm, we saw nothing that would indicate that the care and feeding of the birds was not entirely consistent with generally accepted humane farming practices.”

After hearing of the victory, Sergio Vitale of Aldo’s Restaurant in Baltimore said, “It’s a good feeling to know that legislators listened to our concerns and allowed us to correct the misinformation surrounding this issue.”

Izzy Yanay, VP of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, said after the recent action in Maryland, “We are very gratified to see that when the science and agricultural facts are laid before open-minded decision makers, they arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Arbitrarily banning any culinary tradition without looking at all the facts would be unfortunate public policy.”

The Philadephia Inquirer

Examine the facts in debate over foie gras

Those urging banning it from Philadelphia restaurants are misstating current reality.

By Nicolas Maduros
June 13, 2007

Isn’t it ironic that in the city that is the birthplace of American liberty, some want to take away an individual’s right to decide what he or she can eat?

A radical vegan group has been protesting at local Philadelphia restaurants, trying to strong-arm chefs into removing the delicacy foie gras from their menus. Some misinformed citizens have even suggested that the city ought to outlaw the sale of the product, as if there were not better ways for the elected leaders of the city to spend their time and your tax dollars.While the protesters have done a lot of shouting, what has been missing is a discussion of the facts. The truth is that foie gras farming is humane. That’s the only logical conclusion if you base your assessment on unbiased scientists and veterinarians, rather than vegetarian activists.

Over the last two years, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has studied the science, inspected foie gras farms, and rejected claims that the ducks raised for foie gras are treated inhumanely. The most detailed scientific study of foie gras farming was published in June 2004 in the World’s Poultry Science Journal. That scientific journal concluded that foie gras is a “non-pathological and non-harmful product.”

Scientists have gone so far as to study the release of stress hormones in the ducks raised for foie gras. Peer-reviewed research confirms that the hand-feeding involved in fattening ducks does not cause them stress. Those are the facts.To understand the issue, one must realize that ducks and humans are very different. Were it otherwise, we would take our sick children to the veterinarian and our injured kittens to the pediatrician. A waterfowl is capable of swallowing whole, wriggling, spiny fish without damaging its esophagus. It is no wonder, then, that the birds are not injured by less than one minute a day of feeding by a smooth narrow tube.

The truth is very different than the rhetoric. The fringe vegan group behind the Philadelphia protests uses placards with photos captioned “the Reality of Foie Gras.” The photo used, which shows ducks in cages, is clearly not a current photo of any of America’s three foie gras farms, none of which cages its ducks.

Lawrence Bartholf, a respected veterinarian and the recipient of the inaugural AVMA Animal Welfare Award, said after visiting America’s largest foie gras farm, Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York state, that “videos and still photographs showing the ducks in distress do not accurately represent the farming practices that I have seen firsthand.” That is the reality.

Philadelphia’s chefs don’t have to take my word for it. Restaurateurs and chefs genuinely interested in learning the facts about foie gras are welcome to visit any of America’s three foie gras farms and see firsthand the traditional farming methods practiced at these small farms.

The truth is that food doesn’t come from the supermarket or the back of a truck. It comes from farms where people wake up early and work hard all day to put it on our tables. Don’t these farmers at least deserve an honest discussion based on facts and science? And don’t the citizens of Philadelphia deserve the liberty to make up their own minds about what they choose to eat?

Nicolas Maduros is the former executive director of the Artisan Farmers Alliance (www.artisanfarmers.org), a Washington-based group that represents America’s foie gras farmers and others involved in artisanal agricultural products.