Photo by Shane Harms

Activists say ‘no’ to Amazon foie gras sales

Ballard weighs in on animal cruelty

May 21 -- Over 20 demonstrators with the Mercy for Animals (MFA) organization demonstrated against Amazon’s sale and distribution of foie gras in front of the Seattle Repertory Theatre (155 Mercer St.) where Amazon’s annual Meeting of the Shareholders was being held.

They were there to greet the shareholders before the meeting wielding posters depicting Jeff Bezos’ mug along side a gruesome scene of a duck being force-fed at a foie gras farm.

The group demanded that Amazon recognize the force-feeding of geese and ducks to produce foie gras is animal abuse and that Amazon should follow the lead of companies like Costco, Target, Whole Foods and Wolfgang Puck and stop the sale and distribution of the product.

MFA’s national campaign coordinator Phil Letten was at the demonstration and said that the production of foie gras is blatant animal abuse and that by selling the product Amazon is perpetuating animal cruelty and nefarious exploitation of animals.

“At Amazon, buying products that result from blatant animal abuse is just a click away. It’s time for Amazon to follow others in refusing to sell foie gras. …The practice of ramming a metal rod down a duck’s throat three times a day is so inherently cruel that it has been banned in California and a dozen countries,” said Letten.

Indeed. Israel, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, and Poland have banned the production of foie gras. Other countries have banned the force feeding of animals include Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

“We’ve spoken with numerous people walking by and they have expressed their support and drivers are honking their horns giving us the thumbs up. … Most people are opposed to animal abuse and when they learn about the horrific treatment that these birds endure to be sold as foie gras on the Amazon site they are horrified, and they want Amazon to stop.”

In 2004 California also banned the production and sale of foie gras and implemented the law in 2012. Letton was asked if he thought that same action could be taken in Seattle or Washington.

“I think that people would overwhelming support that, but the focus today is on Amazon. Not only do they have the power but also the responsibility to help end one of the cruelest factory farming practices in existence by ending the sale of foie gras.”

In the U.S. most foie gras is made with Mallard ducks. The process by which foie gras is made consists of inserting a long tube into the throats of geese or ducks and pouring a corn and fat feed into their digestive chamber. The feeding happens up to three times a day and because of the way the fowl digests food the process fattens the liver. The method dates back to Egyptian practice and is designed to mimic the birds’ natural behavior of “fattening up” before migration.

The end product is described as rich and buttery in flavor and a fatty, tender consistency and is prized by many food aficionados. The material can be prepared in many ways but is commonly seared and served along side dishes such as steak. It's also used to make pâté or mousse.

According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of foie gras has 462 calories, 43.84 grams of total fat, 150mg of cholesterol, 697mg of sodium and 11.4 grams of protein. There are also vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron.

The end product is far removed from the process, and activists in Seattle say it’s unnecessary and cruel.

“We can all agree that all animals deserve at least minimal welfare protections which include not ramming a metal rod down a duck’s throat to induce a diseased liver,” said Letten.

MFA and many other animal rights groups content the practice is cruel siting at PETA study that examined the practices of Hudson Valley Farms, a New York based producer and Amazon supplier of foie gras. Hudson Farms is the largest producer of foie gras in the U.S.

PETA reported farmers aggressively handled fowl, and the birds developed fatal injuries to the throat, extremities, and internal organs. They also reported that some of the fowl were conscious when their throats are incised to end the living part of their production phase.

However, Hudson Valley was praised for their humane treatment and for producing quality foie gras by food writer and the television personality of “No Reservations,” Anthony Bourdain.

On the Amazon website Hudson Valley foie gras sells for $3.71 an ounce.

In Ballard, where foodies are beginning to flock to award winning restaurants, chefs prepare froie gras in many different dishes.

However, Bastille Café Chef and Stoneburner Owner/Operator/Chef, Jason Stoneburner, said,” “We do not serve foie gras at Bastille, mostly because of the somewhat misunderstood farming practices associated with the product.”

“There are duck farms where good husbandry is the focus and the ducks’ natural tendancy to overeat is organically facilitated. I always look at a producers’ farming method before I commit to using their product. It’s important to Bastille, rather than explaining to diners why a particular duck farmer who produces foie gras isn't harming their animals,” said Stoneburner.

August Graube, 32, is a North Seattle resident and frequent patron at many Ballard restaurants. Graube said, “I've always been on the fence with how I feel about foie gras. I'm a meat eater, and I assume that the majority of the meat that I consume probably comes from mass production farms.”

“I doubt that those cattle, chickens and pigs are treated much better than the final 12 to 15 days of a goose's life when it's being force fed. Because of this, and also because it's bad for the environment in many ways, I try to limit my overall meat consumption, and I very rarely order foie fras,” said Graube.

As the largest food distributor in the world, Amazon’s course of action could affect Ballard and Seattle chef’s choices in their dishes and a global culture as well.

The Ballard News-Tribune reached out to Amazon for comment but they have not responded.

“It's certainly a very touchy issue; one that I'm not even sure about, so I couldn't fault Amazon for either remaining in, or pulling out of the foie gras marketplace,” said Graube.

“I will say that I would like to see these protesters/groups focus their energy on the worst violators, like the industrial farming methods used by the chicken industry,” said Stoneburner.

However, Letten shares a slightly more aggressive view.

“If Amazon executives abused dogs and cats in the same way foie gras suppliers abuse ducks, they would be jailed on grounds of animal cruelty. As a civilized society it’s our moral obligation to protect all animals, including ducks from needless animal cruelty,” said Letten.

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