Is ASPCA ducking foie gras?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1995:

NEW YORK– – Anti-foie gras crusader Joel
Freedman, 48, is obsessed, handwriting long letters to anyone
who might read them. He’s been at it three years now.
He believes the American SPCA should prosecute Hudson
Valley Farm, of Mongaup Valley, New York, for forcefeeding
ducks to make foie gras, under a phrase of Section
353 of the New York agriculture and marketing act, which
expands more precise definitions of outlawed cruelty to
include “any act of cruelty to any animal, or any act tending
to produce such cruelty.”
Handwritten letters, in the age of word processing,
are often the hallmark of a crank. Yet Freedman is a crank of
accomplishment. A social worker by profession, he was
fired in 1985 by the Veterans’ Administration hospital in
Canadaigua, New York, for insisting that the hard, largediameter
tubes then used to feed brain-damaged patients
were inhumane. He won reinstatement via court order a year
later, and won vindication when hospitals everywhere,
including the one where he still works, began switching to
softer, smaller, but more expensive feeding tubes.
Freedman’s crusade on behalf of brain-damaged
but still suffering humans and his crusade on behalf of ducks
are in many respects extensions of one another.
Foie gras is French for “fat liver.” As New York
avian veterinarian and licensed wildlife rehabilitator Tatty
Hodge explains, “Ducks and geese raised for foie gras are
force-fed with a hard metal or plastic pipe inserted the length
of the esophagus. Food is pumped through this pipe until the
birds are so full that some regurgitate. Some producers put a
band around the esophagus to prevent this.” Force-feeding
the birds six to seven pounds of grain per day causes their
livers to grow eight to twelve times their normal size in the
four weeks before slaughter. Citing “tremendous irritation
and trauma to the esophagus,” as well as liver disease
induced to produce foie gras of the preferred texture, Hodge
believes that, “Any practice which has as its goal the production
of a diseased and suffering animal is inhumane and is
in violation of the New York anti-cruelty law.”
Hudson Valley, formerly known as Commonwealth
Enterprises, is one of just three foie gras producers in
the United States. The others are AGY Corporation and
Specialty Game Birds, also in Sullivan County, New York,
and also owned by Izzy Yanay.
Broken promise
Commonwealth a.k.a. Hudson Farms and the other
foie gras producers became established in the U.S. on the
promise that unlike their European rivals, they would not
force-feed. But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
documented force-feeding at Commonwealth in a 1991
undercover probe. The investigators reported that only male
ducks and geese are force-fed; females are sorted out at
hatching, and like male chickens, killed. PETA claimed the
killing method was a combination of crushing and scalding.
PETA also indicated that about one force-fed bird in ten dies
prematurely of bursting internal organs or infected lesions
caused by the insertion of the feeding pipe.
“The ASPCA is opposed to the production of foie
gras,” ASPCA president Roger Caras affirms in a form letter
to those who write to demand a prosecution. “However,
current New York state law does not empower us to act.”
Caras blames PETA for that situation. “In April
1992,” he states, “for reasons of their own, PETA took
undercover photographs to the district attorney in the area;
he subsequently refused to prosecute. The endeavor was
badly executed. The pictures should have gone to the state
attorney general as well, and had PETA chosen to coordinate
their actions with us, we would have had ASPCA officers
with badges and reports standing there, not just impassioned
animal lovers. An attorney general is well within his powers
to turn away protesters from down state or out of state to protect
‘industry’ in an area [but] he cannot afford to ignore a
law enforcement agency.”
But there was a reason why the PETA operation
couldn’t have been coordinated with the ASPCA. As Caras
explains, “Because we are a law enforcement agency, we
cannot enter someone’s property without a search warrant,”
as PETA did, having staffers take temporary jobs at
Commonwealth to gain access. “We can only obtain a
search warrant if there is probable cause,” Caras continued.
“In other words, evidence is needed before we could present
a case in court and argue that cruelty is occurring. Then we
could protest that although the substance is legal, the means
of obtaining it are not.”
The warrantless PETA photography would have
been illegal if the ASPCA had done it or authorized it.
“After failing with the local district attorney,”
Caras concludes, “PETA became very quiet and held the
evidence for two and a half years––after which time it was
no longer of any interest to a judge. Since the material was
taken from what they saw at the Commonwealth enterprise,
and because that business and property had been sold to new
owners, there is not a shred of evidence that we could use as
probable cause to obtain a warrant and investigate the property.
This is frustrating to us, but if we took one step on
Commonwealth property, we would have lawyers after us
and an angry district attorney who would argue, ‘I saw this
two and a half years ago. I threw it out then and I am going
to throw it out now.’ With the waters muddied as they are
now, our hands are temporarily tied.”
And Caras claims the ASPCA is seeking legislation
to ban foie gras production by force-feeding.
That especially ires Freedman. No such legislation
was introduced in the 1995 New York legislative session.
Such a bill was introduced in 1994, but ASPCA assistant
general counsel Lisa Weisberg didn’t mention it in her legislative
alerts to membership, she told him, because of her
“understanding that the bill will not be moving.”
PETA senior researcher David Cantor disputes
Caras’ summary of the 1992 case on almost every point.
“The assistant D.A. assigned to the case considered the evidence
overwhelming, the case strong, and accordingly
arranged for the New York State Police to raid Commonwealth
and to file cruelty charges,” Cantor wrote to Caras
last July 31. “After arraignment, under pressure from
agribusiness, the D.A. appointed a foie gras producer and
other agribusiness representatives to evaluate the case,”
among them Kristen Park, a Cornell Cooperative Extension
Service poultry expert who had already denounced the
Commonwealth raid as “terrorism.”
Continued Cantor, “The panel did not interview
our undercover investigators, the veterinarians who accompanied
police and signed affidavits,” including Hodge, “or
the New York wildlife pathologist,” Mark Lerman, DVM,
“who examined the ducks from Commonwealth and wrote
that foie gras production is totally inhumane. Using the
panel’s self-serving, biased recommendation, the D.A.
dropped the charges.” However, “Because no judgement
has been handed down, such a case can be tried again. At
the D.A.’s request, the judge ordered the case file sealed, so
the public has been denied many of the deplorable facts. We
provided the attorney general with evidence against
Commonwealth and asked the A.G. to prosecute. While
acknowledging that legally it can reinstitute the cruelty
charges, the A.G.’s office declined to do so, saying its policy
is to leave such cases to local district attorneys.”
The matter escalated on January 26, 1995, when
ASPCA veterinarian Michael Krinsley visited Hudson
Valley. His appointment was made far in advance. “I found
the farm to be clean and well run,” he reported to ASPCA
chief of law enforcement Robert O’Neil. “All of the birds
seen were apparently in good condition. The single bird that
we brought back to the ASPCA hospital appeared to be in
good condition on physical exam,” albeit dead. “On autopsy,
it lacked any signs of disease or physical injury associated
with inhumane treatment.”
But Freedman sent a copy of Krinsley’s pathology
report to Lerman, who wrote on June 19 that Krinsley’s
data actually “depicts an animal in extremis. His esophagus
is so thickened, inflamed and infected from the forced feeding
that he could never eat on his own. Infection has apparently
spread to other parts of his body, resulting in an overwhelming
toxic reaction that either killed him or resulted in
his euthanasia. If these lesions were caused by a child
repeatedly thrusting a stick down the throat of this duck, no
one would deny that this child was guilty of torture.”
Hedged Krinsley, “I want to emphatically state
that by no means does [my] finding suggest my endorsement
of the practice of rearing birds for foie gras.”
In one of the more famous Monty Python’s Flying
Circus skits, sleazy pet shop clerk Michael Palin insists a
parrot is not dead, but only depressed: “He’s a Norwegian
blue. He’s pining for the fjords.”
“Pining for the fjords?!” screams John Cleese,
rapping the corpse in rigor mortis on the counter for emphasis.
“This parrot is dead, deceased, shuffled off this mortal
coil and gone to meet his maker. He is no more. He has
ceased to exist. He is a dead parrot.”
“Now you’ve stunned him,” accuses Palin.
The difference between the skit and the ASPCA
vs. PETA would seem to be that live, suffering birds are
involved in the latter.
Joel Freedman isn’t about to let anyone forget that.

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