Foie gras stand falters at Executive Board level


Schaumburg, Ill. — Illinois, Massachusetts and Chicago City Hall debate it, but the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) appears it will not, for now, address the practice of foie gras production.

SCHAUMBURG, ILL. — Illinois, Massachusetts and Chicago City Hall debate it, but the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) appears it will not, for now, address the practice of foie gras production.

At presstime, AVMA Executive Board members tabled the Animal Welfare Committee's (AWC) second introduction of an anti-foie gras production statement. The indefinite dismissal came down during the group's meeting in Schaumburg as nearby Chicago aldermen squared off on barring foie gras sales in city restaurants and Illinois lawmakers carried a bill to ban its production into the 2006 Legislature. In Massachusetts, a Senate measure also seeks to outlaw the forced feeding of ducks and geese despite a lack of foie gras producers in the state.

With just three such manufacturers in the country, the controversy surrounding foie gras touches a "small component of the industry," Executive Board member Dr. John Brooks says. Considering that assessment, AWC members say they've given up on the issue. Yet AVMA, which currently holds no position on foie gras production, receives hundreds of letters from activist and association members opposing the farming practice. AWC representative Dr. Bill Folger considers ignoring foie gras a "big mistake."

"The AVMA feels we should not get involved in producing positions on obscure practices," he says. "They say veterinarians have no self-interest here. Yet any sensible human being considers shoving a metal pipe down the throat of a bird to produce a diseased liver inhumane. I strongly believe that failing to denounce this practice will blow up in our faces."

Maintaining status quo

Brooks acknowledges foie gras production receives national attention, yet he characterizes the controversy as "blown out of proportion." AVMA's House of Delegates (HOD) echoed his perspective last July when they voted against an AWC-sponsored and Executive Board-backed resolution denouncing the mechanical forced feeding of ducks and geese. The rare move against leadership guidance was bolstered by New Jersey Delegate Dr. Robert Gordon's speech chiding Executive Board members for pushing an initiative they reportedly had not researched first-hand. After touring one the nation's three production facilities in upstate New York, the small animal practitioner reported, "Taking the rectal temperature of a cat more stressful than feeding these birds."

Minor issue

Whether that's an accurate assessment of the production practice remains to be seen, association leaders say. With no general consensus among veterinarians, Brooks conveys concern about the profession's direction.

"This is an isolated tentacle on an iceberg. It's affecting a small component of our animal industry despite the publicity," he says. "I think the Executive Board rightfully felt we still needed to explore this. We have to make sure our decisions mirror what we are charged with doing — protecting animal health."

Until more research is conducted, Dr. Bud Hertzog advises that AVMA "hold the course." As an Executive Board member, Hertzog says he's charged with following through on association plans to create an Animal Welfare Division, which lacked a director at presstime.

"There are so many important things going on in veterinary medicine, this is just one small thing we have to contend with," he says. "Foie gras is a debate for our new welfare division, which we still need to get up-and-running. I don't have any burning issue with the thing one way or the other, but clearly AVMA needs more time on this."

Not over

AVMA might only have until the group's annual meeting in July in Honolulu when Farm Sanctuary plans to submit its third consecutive resolution to ban foie gras production for House of Delegates consideration. The activist group recently mailed negative materials on the forced feeding of ducks and geese to 60,000 veterinarians.

"We are going to push the resolution," Farm Sanctuary President Gene Bauston says. "We're going to fight this thing until AVMA comes around on it. This isn't the end of the story."

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