Law For Food: The law affects what you eat. What you buy to eat affects the law.


Regulatory Design: Fois Gras

There’s a good discussion of the ethics and politics of fois gras over at Accidental Hedonist, in which Marc from The Ethicurean and Mental Masala asks a policy question:

If it was determined that gavage was unacceptably painful for the animals, would it be OK to ban the sale of foie gras produced using the technique of gavage? Or should the ban only apply to the practice of the process within the state or locality?

The answer of course depends on what one’s intentions are in supporting a ban. The first proposal would limit the consumption of gavage-produced fois gras, while the second would limit its production, but not necessarily its consumption.

The foreseeable effects of banning the sale gavage-produced fois gras are as follows: first, some certifying authority would regularly have to inspect producers (both domestic and overseas) to ensure that gavage was not taking place (in much the same way that the FDA inspects and certifies overseas producers of other foods). Since FDA inspection fees are borne in part by the party seeking inspection, this raises the barrier to entry and precludes some smaller producers from entering the U.S. fois gras market (if they aren’t producing enough fois gras to amortize the inspection costs.)

The second proposal bans the act of gavage in the production of fois gras, presumably under animal cruelty grounds.  It seems to me that this would simply outsource gavage to other jurisdictions, unless it were accompanied by a ban on the import or sale of gavage-produced fois gras such as discussed above.

An outright ban on gavage-produced fois gras therefore will be more effective in stopping the practice than will a ban on gavage within the jurisdiction, assuming that gavage is worth banning.  (I want to stress that I remain unconvinced of this.)

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4 Comments so far
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This is an interesting question, and it could be a bit of a slippery slope; after all, isn’t most factory slaughter also unacceptably painful for the animal?

There’s actually a great debate on this question happening on my blog: http://therealpotato.wordpress.com/2007/09/26/five-dollar-foie-gras/#comment-309

Great blog, by the way!

Comment by therealpotato

Potato,

Thanks for reading! You raise a good point, and, while my contributions to the fois gras debate haven’t perhaps made this clear, it is certainly the case that CAFO practices are unacceptably cruel to animals.

However, I don’t think it has been shown that gavage is more cruel than the raising of other animals for food. Thus, it seems to me inconsistent to ban fois gras because it is cruel, unless one also intends to ban factory farming in general. If we ban fois gras, we should also ban most of the meat sold in the U.S. on those same grounds.

Thus, a vegetarian or a vegan who wants to use the law to prevent me from eating all meat, however raised, is logically consistent in opposing fois gras. An ethical foodie who wishes to use the law to ban the sale of all meat cruelly raised is not logically consistent in banning fois gras, because not all fois gras is raised in a cruel manner. Likewise anyone who supports the fois gras ban but eats factory farmed meat (which I suspect is most fois gras opponents).

Personally, I think that fixing the farm subsidies would go a long way to solving the problem of animal cruelty. An increase in the costs of corn and soy would mean an increase in the raw inputs of industrially-raised meat, but it would not affect the cost of grass-fed, free-range meats. The marginal difference between free-range and factory-farmed meat would go down, which would shift some consumers to purchasing free-range meat. Moreover, if fewer acres are dedicated to subsidized crops, that leaves more available land on which to graze cattle.

I think that the fois gras ban is a bad idea. It fails to get at the heart of the issue, which is the false notion that there are dishes which are inethical (like fois gras) and dishes which are ethical (like steak). Unfortunately it is not that simple.

Thanks for reading! I will check out the discussion on your blog.

Comment by lawforfood

Potato,

On rereading, I am not sure I’ve addressed your question. To what are you referring when you say “it could be a bit of a slippery slope”?

Regards,

Law for Food

Comment by lawforfood

However, I don’t think it has been shown that gavage is more cruel than the raising of other animals for food. Thus, it seems to me inconsistent to ban fois gras because it is cruel, unless one also intends to ban factory farming in general. If we ban fois gras, we should also ban most of the meat sold in the U.S. on those same grounds.

Hi Law for Food,

Actually, this is exactly what I was getting at. Sorry for my inexactness- this is what happens when I try to write blog comments at work!

But yes, exactly– my point is that a foie gras ban on the grounds of animal cruelty is logically inconsistent unless you plan to ban factory farming altogether, since the level of cruelty is at least as high. I would bet, though, that most foie gras opponents do not eat meat at all- they seem to be mostly hardcore animal rights activists.

Comment by therealpotato




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