Animal rights groups lobby to ban foie gras in Hawaii
The battle over foie gras has come to Hawaii, as animal rights activists seek to ban production and sale of the controversial delicacy -- even though none is produced here.
Animal rights activist Gene Bauston, founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, will speak on "How Violent Food Choices Fuel a Violent World" at the monthly meeting of the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii. His free public talk will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at McCoy Pavilion, Ala Moana Beach Park.
The expensive food is prized by some gourmets but despised by opponents who say force-feeding birds to create it is cruel and inhumane.
Foie gras translated from the French means "fatty liver." Proponents say it has been produced by humans since Egyptian times by force-feeding geese or ducks larger than normal quantities of food, usually corn, which causes their livers to grow up to 10 times normal size. That enlarged liver is foie gras. It sells for $45 to $70 a pound.
"The practice of force-feeding geese and ducks to produce this exceedingly unhealthy product is just so barbarian, it boggles the mind that anyone would oppose the legislation," said Cathy Goeggel, director of research and investigation for Animal Rights Hawaii. "The only reason would be that it's supposed to be an elegant dish and tastes good to people," she said.
Exactly the point, say foie gras lovers.
"People love it, they enjoy it, they think it's a delicacy," said chef Roy Yamaguchi. "They think it's very luxurious, sexy and rich. It's grand."
Yamaguchi doesn't always have foie gras on the menu at Roy's Restaurant, but feels strongly about his right to serve it. "My personal opinion is, I don't think it's right for the government to get involved in legislation for food products," he said, "because I don't know what it's going to lead to in the future."
Yamaguchi said he is good friends with Michael Ginor, the president of Hudson Valley Farms of New York, which is his principal foie gras supplier. "He tells me that his production is humane, and I believe him."
Goeggel and Laurelee Blanchard, a Maui campaign consultant for the mainland-based animal rights group Farm Sanctuary, both plan to lobby state lawmakers to support bills being introduced by Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Kalihi-Liliha) and Rep. Chris Halford (R, Wailea-Kihei).
Chun Oakland's bill would ban production and sale of foie gras, as requested by Goeggel and Blanchard. Halford's bill would ban only production. Both legislators are introducing the bills "by request" from constituents, which means they will not necessarily push for passage.
"Frankly, I don't know how I will vote on this," said Halford. "What I'm in favor of doing is introducing the issue so that they can lobby for the issue as they wish."
Chun Oakland said the bill is "not a high priority" for her compared with housing, public education and child protection legislation.
California recently enacted a ban on foie gras production, and there have been attempted bans in other states. Of the three U.S. foie gras producers, one is in California and two are in New York.
In the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii's latest newsletter, Blanchard urged the group's 1,900 members to lobby their legislators for a Hawaii ban.