The Hudson Valley Chronogram recently published an intriguing profile of Hudson Valley Foie Gras — billed as the world’s largest producer of foie gras. With California scheduled to ban foie gras production by 2012, putting Hudson Valley Foie Gras’ competitor Sonoma Foie Gras out of business, the focus of anti-foie gras efforts by animal rights activists will inevitably fall on this New York company.
According to the Chronogram, the business slaughters 2,000 ducks per week during normal operations and reaches upwards of 10,000 ducks per week during the Christmas holiday.
Hudson Valley was one of the foie gras farms featured in animal rights activist Sarahjane Blum’s 16-minute film, Delicacy of Despair, in which Blum trespassed at Hudson Valley and Sonoma Foie Gras. Chronogram reporter Susan Gibbs was surprisingly skeptical of the film going in, however, noting that,
The film is horrifying, and incredibly effective. But my many years in television news has taught me that selective editing can make a bad situation look a thousand times worse. To find out what was really going on at a foie gras farm, I would have to visit one.
If only more journalists were as skeptical of heavily edited animal rights video as Gibbs is. Fortunately, Hudson Valley proprietors Izzy Yanay and Michael Ginor agreed to allow Gibbs to tour their farm and the result is a profile that makes clear this is a slaughter operation, but one that doesn’t quite live up to Blum’s billing has a horror house.
For example, Gibbs comments on a common claim by activists — that the force fed ducks are often too fat to walk,
Blum had told me to be on the lookout for ducks so fat they were unable to walk. All of the ducks I saw walked. They were very fat and very dirty, a fact both Yanay and Blum said was due to a lack of sufficient water for preening. Several of the fattest ducks had green chalk marks on their necks designating them for the next day’s slaughter.
Gibbs also addresses the issue of ducks being accidentally killed in the forced feeding process,
Each of the farm’s 90 handlers is responsible for feeding 350 ducks three times a day. Spending one minute on each bird would make for a 17-and-a-half-hour workday, but most handlers work much faster. Activists claim that over-worked employees don’t have time to be careful with the ducks and sometimes kill them by overfeeding. Yanay denies the charged, pointing out that worker’s monthly bonuses are docked for each dead bird.
Blum’s short film featured shots of isolation cages at Hudson Valley. When Gibbs visited the farm, Yanay told her that, “That was an experiment. It didn’t work.” According to Yanay, the isolation cages have been discontinued. Blum, however, told Gibbs she doesn’t believe Yanay when he says the isolation cages are no longer being used.
Yanay defends foie gras as no more or less cruel than any other form of animal agriculture, and suggests that if activists do succeed in New York as they have in California, it won’t have much long-term impact on his business,
Okay. We are bad people. But what we do wrong is we kill them. We are a farm that produces a product. You see cute little babies coming out of the eggs. We grow them and feed them and then we have to kill them.
. . .
If production is banned in New York, we will take our business to China. We will kill the same number of ducks. No ducks have ever been spared by banning foie gras.
Fowl feast: Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Susan Gibbs, Chronogram (Hudson Valley), February 2005.