SACRAMENTO - A Senate panel approved a bill Monday that would ban the
production and sale of foie gras , a delicacy derived from the livers of
force-fed geese and ducks - a practice that animal rights groups decried as
Experts on both sides gave conflicting testimony at a hearing of the Senate
Business and Professions Committee over whether the birds are harmed by
being fed through tubes during the two weeks prior to being slaughtered.
Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, flanked by actress Bea Arthur, television
personality Melissa Rivers and several veterinarians, said the birds are
Burton's bill would ban the method of feeding birds with a tube connected to
an overhead funnel, that is inserted down the birds' throats to pump in
food. It also would ban the sale of foie gras produced with this method and
allow for up a fine of up to $1,000 a day per violation.
Arthur said it's time to ban a practice that leads to "intense suffering" of
the ducks and geese to produce "an overpriced delicacy."
"There is no room in our wonderful state for such a nightmarish industry,"
said Arthur, former star of the TV series "Maude" and "The Golden Girls."
The product, and Sonoma Foie Gras, the only producer of the delicacy in
California, have become targets of animal-rights groups. Sonoma Foie Gras
has reported that activists have harassed the company's owners, stolen ducks
and vandalized the farm and retail stores that sell the foie gras.
But Guillermo Gonzalez, one of the owners of Sonoma Foie Gras, said the
force-feeding isn't harming the birds.
"We know that treating the birds well is the best way to produce quality
products," he said.
The birds arrive when they're just days old and are kept in barns until
they're old enough to roam the walnut orchards, said Maria Gonzalez,
Guillermo Gonzalez' daughter. Once they're mature, they live in barns for
about two weeks and are fed through the tubes to fatten them up for the
Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, said he visited the farm and found it to be
"extremely sanitary" and well operated.
Most animals raised to be slaughtered for food eat more than they would be
able to forage in the wild, said Machado, who owns a farm in San Joaquin
County. He said he was concerned the bill concerning the specialty product
could be expanded to cover chicken, beef or dairy production.
Foie gras - French for "fat liver" - is sold at about 300 restaurants
throughout the state, according to the California Restaurant Association,
which opposed the bill.
Ken Frank, owner of La Toque restaurant in Rutherford, Calif., and a fan of
liver pate, said he investigated the farm himself when the foie gras
controversy arose several years ago and saw no cruel treatment of the birds.
When he returned last year to visit, "I saw no incidences of ducks being
mistreated," he said.
The bill's supporters need to remember that these birds are being raised to
be food, he said. "We need to separate livestock and pets."
Burton amended his bill to delay the ban until mid-2012. The bill passed on
a 4-1 vote and goes to the full Senate.
He said supporting his bill should not be seen "in any way as validating or
acquiescing to this illegal activity" of activists who trespass, harass or
damage property of foie gras producers or sellers.
Read the bill, SB1520, at http://www.senate.ca.gov