AVMA refuses to condemn foie gras, amends sow crate policy, excludes critics from hall
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2005:
MINNEAPOLIS–The American Veterinary Medical Association
House of Delegates on July 16, 2005 unanimously defeated a
resolution asking the AVMA to formally find inhumane the practice of
force-feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras.
The resolution was rejected, AVMA publicist Sharon Granskog
said, “because limited peer-reviewed scientific information dealing
with the animal welfare concerns associated with foie gras is
available, and because the observations and practical experience of
members indicate a minimum of adverse effects on the birds involved.”
Charged Farm Sanctuary in a membership alert, “The AVMA
House of Delegates rejected the 1998 Report of the Scientific
Committee on Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks
and Geese as being out-dated.”
The resolution was squelched, Farm Sanctuary alleged, “due
to opposition by the American Association of Avian Veterinarians,
the American Association of Avian Pathologists, and the New York
State Veterinary Medical Association. These organizations claimed
that their recent visits to foie gras farms in New York revealed
proper care of birds. However, in previous unannounced visits to
the same farm, ducks were videotaped in diseased and filthy
There are only four foie gras farms in the U.S., three in
New York and one in California. Former Israeli foie gras farm field
manager Izzy Yanay founded the New York, trio, beginning in 1982.
Yanay started the largest as Commonwealth Enterprises in 1990, but
changed the name to Hudson Valley Foie Gras after two PETA undercover
operatives in 1991 videotaped numerous alleged violations of the New
York state humane law.
The American SPCA, then headed by the late Roger Caras,
refused to prosecute. In January 1995 ASPCA veterinarian Michael
Krinsley reported after an announced visit that Hudson Valley Foie
Gras appeared to be “clean and well run,” in compliance with the
law, and that a dead bird retrieved for necropsy “lacked any signs
of disease or physical injury associated with inhumane treatment.”
However, upstate New York activist Joel Freedman obtained a
copy of the necropsy report and sent it to New York wildlife
pathologist Mark Lerman, DVM.
Lerman wrote that it “depicts an animal in extremis,” whose
“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,” Lerman said, “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,” Lerman concluded,
“no one would deny that this child was guilty of torture.”
Responded 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.”
The controversy reignited after foie gras production was banned by
the Supreme Court of Israel in August 2003, inspiring a global
resurgence of anti-foie gras activism.
Both Farm Sanctuary and Sonoma Foie Gras, the California producer,
endorsed 2004 California state legislation which enables Sonoma Foie
Gras to operate until 2012 with an explicit exemption from humane
enforcement, after which force-feeding is supposed to end if the law
is not amended or extended. The California law was also supported by
the Humane Society of the U.S. and In Defense of Animals, but was
opposed by the Humane Farming Association and Friends of Animals.
Compassion In World Farming initially applauded the California law,
then reversed positions after re-examining it.
Farm Sanctuary and Hudson Valley Foie Gras went on to jointly push a
bill during the 2005 New York spring legislative session which would
have allowed the New York farms a 10-year exemption from humane
enforcement. The bill cleared the New York state house agriculture
committee, but did not advance further. It may be reintroduced
Sow crates & AWI
Increasingly thin-skinned over criticism of its farm animal
welfare policies, the AVMA meanwhile barred the 54-year-old Animal
Welfare Institute from exhibiting at the 2005 conference.
“Since 1963, AWI has exhibited at the annual meeting of the
AVMA 21 times,” recounted AWI president Cathy Liss. “In December
2004, AWI submitted an application for exhibit space. More than
five months later, on June 10, 2005, we received a rejection
letter-nine days after the Association announced a new policy
addressing ‘contentious exhibitors that may be detrimental to the
Liss noted two potential conflicts with the AVMA leadership.
One is AWI opposition to horse slaughter for human consumption. The
other, Liss said, was “our exhibit at the 2004 convention, which was
described by an AVMA representative as ‘very contentious.’
“Our exhibit displayed a life-sized cloth pig in a real
gestation crate,” Liss said. “Approximately 70% of pregnant sows are
confined to gestation crates for the duration of their pregnancies.
We sought to inform veterinarians about gestation crates, as well as
about alternatives that permit sows to engage in key natural
behaviors such as grazing, rooting and socializing. We even had a
farmer, one of hundreds whom we work with, discuss in detail the
practicality and improved welfare of alternative systems.”
At the 2005 annual conference the AVMA softened an
endorsement of gestation crates issued in 2004.
The 2004 statement said, “The industry has moved toward
gestation stall (crate) housing, because gestation stalls increase
caregiver productivity, require lower capital investment, and are
easier to manage than some indoor group housing systems.”
The amended policy statement incorporates those conclusions,
but admits that gestation crates also “restrict movement, exercise,
foraging behavior and social interaction.”
The new statement concludes, “To address animal welfare in
the long term, advantages of current housing systems should be
retained while making improvements,” which “should be adopted as
soon as the technology is sound enough…the systems are understood
and available, and the systems are economically viable.”
AVAR banned in 2004
Barring AWI from exhibiting came a year after AVMA executive
vice president Bruce Little barred the Association of Veterinarians
for Animal Rights from tabling at the 2004 AVMA annual
conference–after AVAR had already paid for a booth.
At issue was that AVAR in June 2004 co-sponsored a New York
Times ad that asked the AVMA to oppose the use of gestation crates,
veal crates, and “forced molts,” which consist of starving hens for
up to two weeks to induce a new egg-laying cycle.
Also, said AVAR vice president Holly Cheever, the ad
highlighted “the inexplicable retention of Dr. Gregg Cutler on the
AVMA’s Animal Welfare Committee, where he represents poultry
welfare, despite the fact that he was shown in three separate
affidavits, including his own sworn deposition, to have ordered the
mass slaughter of 30,000 chickens in California by throwing them
alive into a wood chipper. Needless to say,” Cheever added, “death
by wood chipper is not among the acceptable methods listed in the
2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia.”
AVMA spokesperson Sharon Grans-kog called the ad “misleading”
Co-sponsored by Animal Rights Int-ernational, PETA, and
United Poultry Concerns, the ad was similar to one published in the
April 2004 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
After controversy erupted over barring AVAR, the AVMA
executive board in April 2005 formally adopted a policy excluding
from the exhibit hall “messages espousing philosophies or practices
contrary to policies and position statements of the AVMA,” AVMA
convention and meeting planning division director David Little
explained in his June 10, 2005 letter to Cathy Liss.
“We welcome your application for exhibit space in 2006, and
assure you it will be reviewed independently and without prejudice,”
David Little added.