"GourmetCruelty.com has documented and exposed the horrors of the American foie gras industry and rescued fifteen ducks in the process. Details (as well as photos and videos - BBed.) are now available at GourmetCruelty.com.
story broke tonight in a piece of investigative journalism by Dan Noyes
Foie Gras Controversy
It's one of the most expensive gourmet foods in the world, and foie gras is more popular than ever. The most exclusive restaurants here serve it. But few people have seen how foie gras is made, and that's the motive behind this recent spree of vandalism.
A word of warning: some of the images are disturbing, but we feel it's important to see the truth for yourself.
Animal rights activists broke into a new specialty foods shop and restaurant that will feature foie gras, poured cement down the drains, and flooded the historic adobe building in Napa last month.
The crime scene photos obtained by the I-Team show the message behind the attack: "End Animal Torture," "Foie Gras Equals Death."
Laurent Manrique: "I will continue to use foie gras, that is something I believe in."
The activists targeted
the shop's owner, Laurent Manrique, the famous chef from Aqua Restaurant in
San Francisco. His business partner is Guillermo Gonzalez, who owns one of
just two ranches in the country that produce foie gras by
Laurent Manrique: "Foie gras is not cruel, because really the animals is being fed, they are not suffering."
After vandals attacked his business and home, Manrique told the local media that the ducks he uses for foie gras are "not mistreated" and "not force-fed," that they are "free range." He didn't know at the time that activists had been investigating the foie gras industry for a year and documenting the process inside Sonoma Foie Gras.
Sarahjane Blum, GourmetCruelty.com activist: "There's no question that if people knew what foie gras really was they would not be eating it."
The ranch near Stockton sends 1,500 ducks a week to slaughter. Workers force-feed the ducks so they develop a disease called hepatic lipidosis. The liver expands from the normal size up to 12 times larger.
Laurie Superstein-Cook, Avian Vet: "A friend of mine refers to pate as hepatic lipidosis on toast is what people eat, it's a diseased liver."
This is how Laurent Manrique described the feeding process to us, before he knew we had the undercover pictures.
Laurent Manrique: "If you go to the farm, there is a machine with a small tube this size, you know, and the farmer takes the duck and just pull the tube right at the entrance of the beak."
Then, we showed him the reality of force-feeding.
Dan Noyes: "This is Sonoma Foie Gras."
At least three times a day, a worker grabs each duck, shoves a long, thick metal tube down its throat and an air pump shoots up to a pound of corn into the duck.
Laurent Manrique: "So, for me it's not surprising, this is a natural process."
Dan Noyes: "The impression you gave me just a moment before though was a little better than that, I mean, you said they basically put it into the mouth not very far. That thing's going well down into their throat, all the way to their crop."
Laurent Manrique: "Uh-huh. You should put it on TV. That's the normal process."
The tube sometimes perforates the side of the duck's throat, causing scarring and other damage. And, the large amount of food has an impact.
Laurie Superstein-Cook, Avian Vet: "The liver is there to clean out toxins from the blood stream. If the liver can't work properly, you've got all these toxins flowing through the blood, making them feel bad in various ways, so it can harm various organs as well as the brain."
The activists found barrels of ducks that died before their livers could be harvested, others still barely alive. They also watched ducks too weak or overweight to defend themselves against the rats at Sonoma Foie Gras. Rats were eating these two ducks alive and you can see evidence of similar battles on several other ducks.
Laurent Manrique: "We should do something about that."
Dan: "What concerns does that raise for you as a chef who uses foie gras from a place like this?"
Laurent Manrique: "Because apparently the place is not as clean, and it's supposed to be clean."
The activists have documented similar problems at the country's other foie gras farm: Hudson Valley of New York. There, ducks are kept in isolation cages. They can't move during the weeks of force-feeding and the machinery they use at Hudson takes longer, so the ducks have more time to struggle against the long metal pole.
Sarahjane Blum, GourmetCruelty.com activist: "Foie gras producers know that if they said that these birds were sick and injured and in constant pain and essentially just tortured for this product, no one would be buying it."
Concern for the treatment of ducks has spurred at least a dozen countries around the world to pass laws restricting force-feeding. Just last month, the Israeli Supreme Court banned the production of foie gras, even though Israel is one of the world's largest consumers of the duck liver. The controversy is also having an impact in the Bay Area.
The owner of another exclusive restaurant here in San Francisco, Jardinière, has just pulled foie gras off the menu. She says she is haunted by the images of those ducks.
Laurent Manrique tells the I-Team he has no plans to stop selling foie gras, that he is not the criminal the activists are, who vandalized his business and home, and threatened his family.
Laurent Manrique: "Some people are not true to themselves and they have to cover their face. You know, I don't cover my face, I'm proud of what I'm doing and I have a strong opinion on that."
Sarahjane Blum and her crew may have broken some laws. They ignored the "no trespassing" signs at the ranch, and took 15 ducks from Sonoma Foie Gras and Hudson Valley, including the ones you saw being eaten by rats. They nursed the ducks back to health, taught them to eat on their own, and even gave them workouts on a water treadmill.
Sarahjane Blum, GourmetCruelty.com activist: "They are living a great and happy life now."
When Dan Noyes met her in New York, Blum said didn't know who's responsible for the recent foie gras attacks. But still she faces some questions from the FBI.
Dan Noyes: "Aren't you concerned about being arrested?"
Sarahjane Blum, GourmetCruelty.com activist: "I haven't done anything wrong. The people who are torturing animals day in and day out and selling their corpses on the market, they're the criminals."
The I-Team met with the owner of Sonoma Foie Gras, Guillermo Gonzalez, and he agreed to give an interview and tour of the ranch. The next day, he backed out. During our meeting, Gonzalez told us the pictures you saw are typical of any farming operation. But, he admits he does have work to do to make the process more humane."