Au revoir foie gras

As California goes, so goes the nation some say. In 2004, California became the first state in the country to ban the sale and production of foie gras from force-fed ducks and geese. The law goes into effect on Sunday, July 1.

Foie gras is the fattened liver of ducks and geese who are force-fed through a pipe shoved down their throats. The force-feeding takes place twice a day for about two weeks until the animals are on the verge of organ rupture. It’s a controversial item celebrated by foodies and deplored by animal protectionists for its inherent cruelty.

Duck at Sonoma Foie Gras Photo by APRL

While California might be the first U.S. state to ban the practice, it’s not the first locality by far. Laws have been passed in more than a dozen other countries to outlaw foie gras production, including Israel, which was formerly the world’s fourth-largest foie gras producing country. It banned foie gras production on the grounds that it violated the country’s pre-existing animal cruelty statute.

California’s law came with a seven-and-a-half year phase-out period during which foie gras producers could have worked to find an alternate production method to force-feeding. At the time the state’s sole foie gras producer, Guillermo Gonzalez who runs Sonoma Foie Gras, lobbied in support of the ban, saying, “I have the moral stature to accept that if within the seven-and-a-half years established by S.B. 1520, science and government don’t arrive to the conclusion that the methods used in our foie gras production are acceptable … I will be ready to quit.”

No one has found a humane magic bullet to mass produce foie gras that doesn’t involve force-feeding the animals. Yet a handful of chefs and Gonzalez are manufacturing an eleventh hour crisis to try to get the bill overturned. In an effort to mislead consumers about the production of foie gras, they are trying to create standards which would essentially codify what they’re already doing. For example, requiring that the birds are not confined in cages (they’re not caged in California to begin with) and that the birds are hand-fed. The latter conjures images of a friendly farmer lovingly holding his hand out to let a duck gobble feed from his palm. In reality, it would simply mean that workers would use their hands to individually shove a pipe down the birds’ throats—something they already do.

In a state where we’re facing an economic crisis and many other important issues, it’s sad to see the legislative system, and the media for that matter, being tied up by a few chefs’ petty desire to be able to eat and sell a product that few can afford and that so clearly is cruel and inhumane to produce. For the ducks and geese in California and those of us who’ve been waiting for this day for seven and a half years, July 1 can’t get here soon enough. And may many states follow.

Grand slam for pigs: Denny’s makes gestation crate commitment

It seems that every week another company announces that it’s working to get gestation crates out of its supply chain. This week is no different. Today Denny’s, the family diner that’s always open – and known for its ham and bacon-heavy breakfasts announced that it is working with its suppliers to end the use of gestation crates within its supply chain.

With announcements like this coming out regularly—first Compass Group, followed by McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Safeway last week, it might seem like everyone’s getting on board. That’s a good thing when you consider the extent of suffering the some 6 million U.S. breeding pigs endure when confined in crates so small they can’t even turn around.

It’s a common sense move that’s good for animals and as industry publications are reporting, it’s a viable move for agribusiness as well. A recent article in Feedstuffs was titled, “Group sow housing can work.” Where there’s a will there’s a way and responsible businesses are proving that if they’re really concerned about doing the right thing, they’ll find a way. Congrats to Denny’s for being in that camp.

Safeway latest company to pledge to rid supply chain of gestation crates

This morning Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, the second largest grocery store chain in North America announced it will eliminate the sale of all pork produced using gestation crates. Safeway’s commitment represents the first such commitment made by a mainstream retailer and with a reach of 1,694 stores it has the potential to have tremendous impacts on the pork industry and how it raises its mother pigs. The announcement has already received praise from The Humane Society of the United States and is getting media attention in mainstream and industry trade press, which is sure to create more consumer demand and more pressure for other grocers to follow suit.

Gestation crates are on the hot seat these days with other major retail companies that have made announcements to phase them out, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s. Notable about Safeway’s announcement is that it includes the sale of all pork (including grocery items that contain pork: think Lunchables, hot dogs, and Hot Pockets) from supply chain systems using gestation crates.

If you consider the suffering involved in confining animals in crates so small they can’t even turn around; can’t even engage in some of their most important natural behaviors, it’s obvious that it’s the right thing to do. Yet it takes a company truly committed to doing the right thing to make a bold move for this kind of change happen. Congratulations to Safeway for being a leader and may many of its competitors follow suit.

Landmark animal welfare policy announced by Burger King rules

Farm animal welfare is getting a lot of attention from the restaurant industry these days and rightly so. A report put out this month by Technomic, a food industry trade publication, indicated that 73 percent of consumers see claims of “humanely raised” as significant to their purchasing decisions. Recognizing the importance of reducing the suffering of animals raised to produce their sausage, bacon, and eggs, Burger King Corp., the second largest burger chain in the country, announced a sweeping new animal welfare policy today. The company will, within five years, ensure the pork, bacon, and eggs it uses do not come from mother pigs who were confined in gestation crates or hens confined in tiny battery cages.

While some companies have taken small steps to move away from eggs produced from hens in tiny cages, Burger King is the first major company in the U.S. to make a commitment of this scale. Operating more than 12,500 locations worldwide, Burger King Corp. wields a lot of purchasing power. Commitments like this one and those being made by other major fast food companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s are sure to bring suppliers to the table to stop the practice of confining animals in spaces so small they can’t even turn around for virtually their entire lives.

“Burger King Corp. has demonstrated when it comes to America’s largest fast food chains, it continues to set the standard,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS in a news release. “These changes by Burger King Corp. will improve life for countless farm animals and encourage other companies to abide by animal welfare principles up and down their supply chain.”

The companies dragging their heels on making improvements are failing to recognize that there’s more to the bottom line than dollars and cents. Smarter customers don’t support the lifelong confinement of animals in small crates and cages and they’re going to start asking questions. It would be wise for companies to start thinking outside the crate.

Snyder’s-Lance starts using cage-free eggs

Most people would agree that all animals, even those raised for food, should be given protection and in the very least the ability to move around freely. But for the overwhelming majority of hens who lay eggs sold in grocery stores and baked into manufactured goods in the U.S., doing so is the exception rather than the rule. Increasingly though, more food manufacturers are starting to move away from eggs produced from hens confined in cages, or “cage-free” eggs. The latest is snack foods maker Snyder’s-Lance.

Snyder’s-Lance is known to many for its sales of pretzels, chips and snack crackers. The company also makes baked goods in which eggs are an ingredient. The company announced last week that it would join the growing legion of food manufacturers in starting to use cage-free eggs. Other major food companies using cage-free eggs include Unilever (maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream), Kraft, Sara Lee, General Mills, and ConAgra. While Unilever is on the path towards using exclusively cage-free eggs, the other companies have switched a modest percentage of their eggs to cage-free.

More than ninety percent of the eggs produced in this country are produced by hens confined in wire cages so small they can’t even fully extend their wings without touching another bird or the sides of the cages. Each bird is allotted the space equivalent of a single sheet of paper on which to live her entire life. And their lives are devoid of the things that are most important to them: areas to nest, dustbathe, perch, or scratch.

Battery cages documented by Compassion Over Killing

Snyder’s-Lance’s move is a positive one and in line with its efforts to be a more sustainable company. “Snyder’s-Lance is committed to doing our part in ensuring a more humane and sustainable world,” said Sid Levy, Director of Communications and Community Relations for Snyder’s-Lance in a company news release. “We are committed to using the highest-quality ingredients and keeping in touch with consumer concerns. While the vast majority of our snack products do not contain eggs, choosing cage-free eggs is the right thing for our Company and our customers.”

And while cage-free doesn’t mean cruelty-free (the birds are still typically “debeaked” – having the tips of their beaks seared off with a hot blade to prevent pecking and they are still confined in large industrial warehouses), most people would agree that giving birds more space to move about and engage in important natural behaviors is a positive step.