By: Staff  Date: 05/8/2004

In yet another episode of marshalling mob force against a single, isolated and unprepared target, animal rights extremists have zeroed in on Sonoma Foie Gras, a business engaged in the production of foie gras, and Sonoma Saveurs, a shop that specializes in related products. Sonoma Foie Gras is one of only three companies in the US that produces foie gras, a delicacy prepared from the liver of a duck or goose, which has been enjoyed by food lovers for centuries.

Mr. Guillermo Gonzalez is owner and originator of Sonoma Foie Gras and is one of three partners in Sonoma Saveurs. Both businesses are successful in direct proportion to the 18-hour days logged in by their principals. With these work demands, Mr. Gonzalez, a soft-spoken immigrant from El Salvador, had given little thought to the possibility of an animal rights attack. He had no idea of what was in store for him or how horribly the animal rights fanatics would attempt to portray him.

Preparing for this battle hadn't seemed necessary. Gonzalez has had the guidance of poultry scientists and technicians since the inception of his company. The Poultry and Meat Inspection Branch of the California Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Food and Agriculture have inspected their products throughout the years and the Cooperative Extension of the University of California at Davis has been consulted for approval of the best animal husbandry and welfare. The ducks at Sonoma Foie Gras are never individually caged; they have free range of a large area until two weeks before they are slaughtered. It is totally legal to produce and sell foie gras in the US.

None of this matters to animal rights zealots. Animal rights extremists, dogmatic vegetarians whose fundamentalist beliefs represent no more than a percent or two of the population and whose illegal tactics are supported by even fewer people, have decided that raising ducks for food is inherently cruel and should be stopped. To accomplish their agenda and fatten their treasuries, they have broken into the Sonoma Foie Gras duck farm on a dozen occasions, at least once with a Los Angeles Times reporter in tow. They have stolen birds, vandalized the homes and property of the restaurant partners, videotaped one of the partners in his home, and delivered death threats. They have sued Gonzalez for cruelty, petitioned the Sonoma City Council to ban the sale of foie gras and lobbied for a law that will effectively prohibit the sale of foie gras throughout the state.

The combat planThe war plan seized upon by these extremists has been tried, tested and perfected in many previous animal rights attacks. They chose a farming practice so specialized that there is no large association to defend it, either in court or to the public. Who among us knows enough about the production practices of foie gras to question or effectively refute the extremists' accusations of cruelty and abuse? Just as with mink versus leather, they chose a product that many people associate with the rich in order to diminish popular support for Mr. Gonzalez and his business. They trespassed on private property in order to steal birds and make sensational videotapes. They used the tapes to generate media attention. They filed frivolous lawsuits to vilify Mr. Gonzalez and drain his finances in defense. They threatened his partners and their families; vandalized his partners' homes and caused $50 thousand in damages to their newly opened restaurant. They attacked Mr. Gonzalez by spray painting racial slurs on his restaurant walls telling him to GO HOME. Finally, they convinced a California lawmaker to introduce a bill that would make it nearly impossible for Sonoma Foie Gras to survive.

This is the modus operandi that has been perfected by organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They maintain investigative divisions that use subterfuge to get jobs for their surrogates in animal businesses. Once inside, these moles work zealously to produce claims of abuse that can be used against their targets. To this end they have staged films and photographed examples of their own neglect and abuse, enhancing and editing the final videotape for maximum effect. When complete, they send their carefully crafted video snippets directly to the media to generate public outrage against the target and encourage complaints to the authorities. Targets of such vilification campaigns receive threatening letters and telephone calls and surreptitious visits to their homes, and their neighbors receive hate mail describing an "abuser" in their midst. Through it all, PeTA mounts a continuous barrage through its website, the media, city and road billboards, and even court testimony.

Last Chance for Animals claims to be the "FBI of Animal Rights," leaving the false impression that it has official jurisdiction to infiltrate animal businesses. The Humane Society of the US, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Greenpeace also use surreptitiously obtained and misleading videos to attack animal enterprises.

Other activists take a leaf from the playbook of the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, sister terrorist groups identified by the real FBI as America's leading domestic terrorists. Working in small cells, these insurgents trespass, vandalize homes and property, commit arson, and steal animals in their attempts to vilify animal owners and drive companies out of business.

The battle against foie grasThe Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) and In Defense of Animals (IDA) have taken the public lead in the attacks on Sonoma Foie Gras and are both directly involved in the economic sabotage and dissemination of propaganda against the company. PeTA, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Animal Liberation Front, Farm Sanctuary, Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), VIVA!USA, LA Lawyers for Animals, East Bay Animal Advocates and others have all joined the fray. These groups all insist that tube feeding ducks in the production of foie gras is abusive. However, a quick glance at their websites and other materials reveals their revulsion of all meat-eating, along with their campaigns against the poultry industry, pork producers, dairymen, and other agricultural businesses that raise livestock for food.

As a matter of fact, foie gras is the fattened liver achieved by managed feeding of ducks for the last two weeks of their lives. At Sonoma Foie Gras, the ducks are raised free range until the intensive feeding begins at 12-14 weeks; then they are confined to community pens and fed a pre-set amount twice a day through a feeding tube.

According to waterfowl experts, ducks and geese in the wild gorge themselves prior to migration to temporarily store fat in their liver, to be released in muscles and under the skin during their arduous trip. The managed feeding imitates this process by placing food in the esophagus through the tube, thus using the animal's physiological built-in capacity to transform the excess feed into fat and store it in the liver (this is especially true for the breed of ducks selected for this process, i.e. Mulard ducks). Each feeding takes only a few seconds and the pressure applied has been studied to be non-injurious to the duck. Activists describe this procedure as "cramming food into the duck's stomach" and claim that the birds are injured by the process. The word "stomach" is misleading because ducks do not have a stomach like humans and in fact have an expandable esophagus designed to accommodate gorging before migration. "Stomach" references encourage people to identify with the ducks through anthropomorphism and promote condemnation of the business.

In reality, the tube deposits the food in the esophagus as afore-mentioned for digestion in a method similar to that used by rescuers who rehabilitate ducks caught in oil spills or other disasters, with the difference that the amount of food is less in rehabilitation. It is essential to understand the anatomy of ducks and waterfowl to realize that the claims made by the extremists are sensationalist and propagandistic.

The "Mulard" duck has been genetically selected for its ability to adapt and yield both liver and meat in the most efficient manner. This is the same selection process that has been applied to all species devoted for food production in modern animal agriculture science.

The activists pay no heed to the data collected by experts such as Dr. Jacques Serviere, a neuroscientist working for the French government at the National Institute for Agronomic Research. Dr. Serviere focused on questions of animal welfare in various breeding practices and did specific work on the managed feeding of ducks. In particular, he investigated the consequences of duck tube-feeding without discovering any evidence of pain.

In their fervor to malign foie gras production, they also disregard statements of poultry experts Dr. George West and Dr. Lawrence Bartholf. West, staff veterinarian for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said that the duck has no larynx and no gag reflex; instead the bird's esophagus is a direct expandable storage organ of the digestive system. Bartholf, a Cornell Cooperative Extension Bureau veterinarian, visited a New York foie gras farm and concluded that "All activities are accepted practices on a farm and did not demonstrate cruelty to animals" and "No practice that we viewed could be construed to be cruel since ducks have a cornified esophagus which can expand to hold natural gorging that is common to water fowl prior to migration."

California Senator John Burton has nonetheless drafted a bill (SB 1520) that would impose high fines for the production and sale of foie gras in the state. The upshot would be the elimination of foie gras and other duck products from restaurant menus and also the certain demise of Sonoma Foie Gras and Sonoma Saveurs. Passage of the bill would also tacitly legitimize the terror tactics used against Gonzalez and his partners. It would also validate those who want to impose their beliefs about diet and animal use on the whole population through whatever means necessary.

The National Animal Interest Alliance, numerous agricultural organizations, restaurant associations, including the California Restaurant Association, the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the San Mateo County Hispanic Chamber of commerce all oppose SB 1520.

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