Should foie gras be banned in Minnesota?

Christian Gasset, owner of Au Bon Canard, a duck farm in Caledonia, checks on his ducks which he raises to produce foie gras. The French delicacy — which are the livers of fattened ducks or geese — has become controversial due to the use of gavage, the practice of force-feeding of ducks or geese by means of a tube. Au Bon Canard is one of just four foie gras producers in the country, and the only one in Minnesota. (Photo by Alex Kolyer for MPR)

A June protest in Minneapolis targeted 112 Eatery. Protesters picketed up and down the block in front of the restaurant in opposition to foie gras — duck or goose liver pate. The Animal Rights Coalition waved signs printed with photography of abused ducks and held those signs against the restaurant’s picture window glass so the diners inside would see them.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, senior editor of Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, recently spoke with Tom Crann of All Things Considered about the debate over foie gras.

DARA MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Foie gras refers exactly to fatty liver. This is something that happens to geese and ducks when they eat too much. And they eat too much in the fall when they’re going to get their migration on. They need kind of a lot of energy, they need all their food stores, so they gorge themselves.

In ancient times, people noticed that ducks and geese did this. You can actually find ancient Egyptian tombs where it shows people feeding extra grain to ducks to get this engorged liver that happens naturally.

What people don’t like about it is that the way that it’s evolved to make this happen in a farming situation is you put a feeding tube down their neck and you give them extra grain at the end of their life. For 15 or 20 seconds, you pour a couple cups, a cup of grain in there and massage it down. This is this traditional way of doing something called gavache. People look at it and think, “If you put a cup of corn down my neck, that would be horribly painful!”

People call it torture. Is it torture? This is something we could talk about for a thousand hours. There are factory farms that do this in France and Canada that people object to wildly — I object to those wildly. There are also artisanal small farms where the ducks are fairly free their whole lives and then they get a lot of food at the end. These kinds of places I have no problem with at all. They’re just about as idyllic of a family farm that you’re going to get when you’re eating the animals.

TOM CRANN: This group, the Animal Rights Coalition, would be opposed to eating any and all animals, generally, right?

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: They have a big pamphlet on their website that says there is no such thing as humane farming. No family farms, no grass pasture, and no nothing, no eggs, no dairy, none of that.

CRANN: Why are they specifically singling out foie gras?

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: They say on their website that, they commissioned a study and most people don’t know what foie gras is; 44 percent never heard of it. Most people don’t eat it, that’d be 59 percent of the people that they asked. Once this group tells them a few things about foie gras, that fully 75 percent of the people are happy to support a ban.

CRANN: Groups like this one have led to a ban in other places. Chicago and even California where it’s still in effect, right?

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Oh, the state of California. We do not want to turn into the state of California. Regarding foie gras, it is a mess. Yes, they have banned foie gras there. All kinds of chefs and restaurants have been doing rear-guard actions ever since, giving out foie gras, having foie gras doughnuts — just doing whatever they can to keep foie gras going. Farms have gone bankrupt, distributors moved across the border into Nevada because there they can skirt the laws that way. I couldn’t count. I literally can’t count the number of lawsuits that are ongoing from this, to this day. [Full transcript]

Today’s Question: Should foie gras be banned in Minnesota?