When Village Voice reporter Sarah DiGregorio set out to investigate foie gras production at Hudson Valley, activists prepped her for a conspiracy. “With 150 people living on-site,” warned anti-foie gras campaigner Holly Cheever, “they can cherry-pick out the disastrously sick ducks” to hide animal abuse from the media. Armed with a list of criteria from an animal welfare expert, DiGregorio spent a day at the farm examining ducks at every stage of the production process. This week, she revealed her findings: Someone is cherry-picking evidence in the “foie gras wars.” But the farmers aren’t the culprits.
Despite the fact that there are only four farms in the U.S. that produce the fatty liver delicacy, activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have put a great deal of effort into stigmatizing the tiny industry and its customers. And as DiGregorio writes in the first sentence of her article, shock videos depicting sick and struggling birds are a crucial part of their campaigns.
It’s very hard to watch the video about foie gras from PETA and not conclude that you should lay off fatty liver.
But like Anthony Bourdain and others who have visited the farms for themselves, the scene at Hudson Valley was nothing like what PETA’s torture video had led her to expect:
[T]he sights could not have been more different from the horrifying images I’d seen on the Internet…
I was at the farm for five hours, all told. I saw thousands of ducks, but not a drop of duck vomit. I didn’t see an animal that was having a hard time breathing or walking, or a duck with a bloodied beak or blown-open esophagus…
So where are the terrible images coming from?
DiGregorio explained that the PETA footage must have been shot at an industrial farm abroad, probably in France. The cages shown in activist shock videos don’t even exist on any of the four farms in the U.S.
However, as the owner of Hudson Valley explained, the “cage free” facilities haven’t deterred HSUS and other groups from trying to sue them out of business. Hudson Valley’s legal costs were $50,000 this month alone.
It’s no secret why PETA and HSUS have spent so much time, money, and energy trying to demonize producers and consumers of foie gras: It’s a gateway to vilifying pork, cheese, veal, and the long list of other foods they want Americans to stop eating. But fortunately for culinary enthusiasts who enjoy the delicacy and other animal products, DiGregorio and others are routinely more convinced by reality than by vegan propaganda films:
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.