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Another look at the foie gras issue


jgm
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This is what happens when humans transfer their own feelings and experiences onto animals, mistakenly assuming them to be the same.

My son (a doctoral candidate in microbiology) assures me that the digestive system of waterfowl is entirely different from our own. Due to the fibrous nature of their diets, they have evolved a much tougher and less sensitive tract (consider the texture of gizzards) making it highly unlikely that they truly feel any discomfort during the feeding process.

Just my two cents.

Nothing like a tough gizzard to make having a metal pipe shoved down your neck feel like a Swedish massage! And then the force-feeding followed by slaughter! I don't know which is more fun, eating the foie gras or being the duck that gives it up!

In my experience, both sides in this debate have an unfortunate bent for ludicrous oversimplification. I eat foie gras, I have friends who won't. We all agree, however, even at the top of the food chain, there is merit in avoiding needless cruelty. Whether foie gras production falls into that category is a legitimate question. Building up straw men and knocking them down ("The beautiful irony here is that anti-foie advocates' anthropomorphizing of geese is actually one of the most grossly human-centric things they could do") or falling back onto glib observations ("Food chain. Top. The end.") brings very much illumination to the discussion.

Acutally, no straw man there. Anthropomorphizing geese is - by definition - a human-centric thing to do.

Your (glib) observation is that the feeding process used for foie gras must be painful. Why? Because it seems like it would be so - would you like it if it were you? But - again - you're not a goose. Neither am I. Geese aren't people. Do you know that it's painful for geese other than a glib human-centric assumption that it must be so?

Without that, I don't think you have a leg to stand on that this is cruel.

The strawman that "if you eat foie and support its production you must like kicking cats and torturing dogs" only works if the production of foie is as painful a process as being a kicked cat or tortured dogs. Do you care to provide any evidence of that based on anything other than applying human feelings to geese? I'm not saying no evidence exists, I'm just not aware of any.

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This is what happens when humans transfer their own feelings and experiences onto animals, mistakenly assuming them to be the same.

My son (a doctoral candidate in microbiology) assures me that the digestive system of waterfowl is entirely different from our own. Due to the fibrous nature of their diets, they have evolved a much tougher and less sensitive tract (consider the texture of gizzards) making it highly unlikely that they truly feel any discomfort during the feeding process.

Just my two cents.

Nothing like a tough gizzard to make having a metal pipe shoved down your neck feel like a Swedish massage! And then the force-feeding followed by slaughter! I don't know which is more fun, eating the foie gras or being the duck that gives it up!

In my experience, both sides in this debate have an unfortunate bent for ludicrous oversimplification. I eat foie gras, I have friends who won't. We all agree, however, even at the top of the food chain, there is merit in avoiding needless cruelty. Whether foie gras production falls into that category is a legitimate question. Building up straw men and knocking them down ("The beautiful irony here is that anti-foie advocates' anthropomorphizing of geese is actually one of the most grossly human-centric things they could do") or falling back onto glib observations ("Food chain. Top. The end.") brings very much illumination to the discussion.

Acutally, no straw man there. Anthropomorphizing geese is - by definition - a human-centric thing to do.

Your (glib) observation is that the feeding process used for foie gras must be painful. Why? Because it seems like it would be so - would you like it if it were you? But - again - you're not a goose. Neither am I. Geese aren't people. Do you know that it's painful for geese other than a glib human-centric assumption that it must be so?

Without that, I don't think you have a leg to stand on that this is cruel.

The strawman that "if you eat foie and support its production you must like kicking cats and torturing dogs" only works if the production of foie is as painful a process as being a kicked cat or tortured dogs. Do you care to provide any evidence of that based on anything other than applying human feelings to geese? I'm not saying no evidence exists, I'm just not aware of any.

Precisely my point.

As an example, while it would undoubtedly be considered cruel to force a human to stand barefoot on a chunk of ice, in freezing temperatures, all day long, there is a flock of geese across the street who have, quite contentedly, been doing exactly that all day long with no apparent ill effects.

Human and animal physiology differs so greatly that I cannot consider foie gras production methods to be cruel or inhumane without more evidence than an apparent lack of resemblance to a “swedish massage”.

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I did not say "Food chain. Top. The End." to be glib. As I've stated before, that statement comes from the philosophical perspective that we, as conscious beings, can put the creations of nature to our use as we see fit. Whatever one's opinions are regarding morals, processes, etc., they don't change the reality of that.

Is that the illumination to which you were referring?  :smile:

Even as you elaborate your thoughts -- "as conscious beings, can put the creations of nature to our use as we see fit," -- it seems pretty insubstantial. If we, for example, decide to put nature "to our use as we see fit," by say, turning a productive river into an open sewer to keep manufacturing costs down, is that ok? How about Bear-baiting on ESPN? And why have any animal cruelty laws at all? If it's cheaper for me to starve and beat my horse, why not? And all that complaining upthread "what about the chickens and the sturgeon?" I guess we needn't worry about them, either.

I'd suggest thatrather than absolute masters, we are, in fact, stewards, with responsibilities as well as rights.

Also, I've noticed that other animals besides humans tend to be conscious, as well. My cat, for example, is only conscious a couple hours a day, but appears to feel pain, respond to stimuli, crave affection. I'm not saying that you have no right to turn her into violin strings, but being cavalier about such an act is, well, glib.

Mr. Sweeney, should you choose to be a steward, you are of course free to do so. I choose to be a captain.

The world around me is mine to mold, and my morals dictate how I will mold it. I'm not on my way out the door to pollute a river, nor do I take the life of any animal lightly -- particularly one that has served as a source of nourishment to prolong my life. No rational human being would. That is not cavalier, glib, or (insert morally condescending adjective here).

I should have been clearer in stating that human beings are the most conscious, which by default puts us at the top of the food chain. However, I have said as much repeatedly, and such details seem to matter little at this point, as you will assign whatever descriptors seem to suit your agenda, and I've had quite enough of that. Good day.

I feel like I'm trapped in a bad Ayn Rand novel (Not that there are any other kind.) I am curious to learn how society exists if every individual's own moral principles are the only curb on that individual's actions -- if there is no objective or even socially accepted subjective morality. It would almost seem as though people were slapping the important-sounding word "morality" on their own desires, or just saying that anything they can get away with is "right."

Thus you can eat foie gras, and if I thought foie gras was torture, I don't have to eat it, but it would be OK for you. I can beat my horse if I feel it's appropriate to beat it and my morals support it, while you needn't beat your horse if you feel it inapropriate; whatever feels right. And the ACME Whitefish Company can, say, fish codfish into extinction, and if we don't like it, well, we're kind of screwed. But at least ACME, captain of its destiny, was able to mold its environment as it saw fit, damn the rest of us and those pesky generations to come.

It's not that I think you're on your way out the door to pollute a river, or have any reason to think you other than a wonderfully moral person. But your outlook, as you describe it, means it's perfectly OK if your next-door neighbor decides his or her morality supports acts that I find reprehensible, be it polluting that river, torturing geese or whatever. It means there is no intellectual basis for any sort of environmental protection or animal cruelty laws.

Acutally, no straw man there. Anthropomorphizing geese is - by definition - a human-centric thing to do.

Your (glib) observation is that the feeding process used for foie gras must be painful. Why? Because it seems like it would be so - would you like it if it were you? But - again - you're not a goose. Neither am I. Geese aren't people. Do you know that it's painful for geese other than a glib human-centric assumption that it must be so?

Without that, I don't think you have a leg to stand on that this is cruel.

Actually I was being glib on purpose, I see you picked up on it, and I'm gratified. It's kind a rhetorical device -- exagerating for effect, or hyperbole -- to underscore the ineffectiveness of some of the arguments in the thread. I like foie gras, and it pains me to see people unwilling or unable to confront the core issue: how much pain/discomfort/agony/whatever, if any, does the unfortunate fowl feel when having their liver artificially enlarged through force-feeding. I want our team to have the good arguments, and not fall back on "it's nothing compared to what those beakless factory chickens go through."

Which brings me to the next rhetorical device on our agenda: anthropromorphizing. See, for me to have been using that, I'd have to give the geese human phsychological characteristics: the ability to feel sorrow or joy, to be pure or currupt, to speak the truth or deceive children, that sort of stuff. We're actually arguing the more mundane question of whether geese feel pain and do they feel it during foie gras production. I suspect that's biology, not literature.

I confess, I have no goose pain studies at hand. I've got to say that the burden is on the other side on this one -- to prove that the lower animals don't feel pain. No one's ever suggested that geese smell or hear in a different way than humans, why would their pain sense be dramatically different?

The straw man, by the way, is the stereotype of the hippy-dippy, serially amthropomorphizing PETA activists whare too stoned, stupid or attached to the childhood bunny they never had, to be taken seriously. Even though I often disagree with them, they may be right sometime. At any rate, dismissing them with cheap stereotypes doesn't prove them wrong.

And I'll stand by my core statement: "even at the top of the food chain, there is merit in avoiding needless cruelty. Whether foie gras production falls into that category is a legitimate question."

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I have great respect for the concept that it's unethical to kill a living thing simply to eat. . .

You mean there is a way to feed yourself without killing living things?

It's impossible to live without killing bacteria, but if we limit this to visible creatures, it probably is possible to eat without killing any, if you restrict yourself to dairy, fruits and seeds (no plant killing), and you could throw in unfertilized eggs. You could also eat certain kinds of leaves without killing the plant. For example, I used to pick young leaves off cashew trees, and it didn't seem to do any damage to the trees, because there were plenty of older leaves and new leaves grew quickly.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I have great respect for the concept that it's unethical to kill a living thing simply to eat. . .

You mean there is a way to feed yourself without killing living things?

It's impossible to live without killing bacteria, but if we limit this to visible creatures, it probably is possible to eat without killing any, if you restrict yourself to dairy, fruits and seeds (no plant killing), and you could throw in unfertilized eggs. You could also eat certain kinds of leaves without killing the plant. For example, I used to pick young leaves off cashew trees, and it didn't seem to do any damage to the trees, because there were plenty of older leaves and new leaves grew quickly.

I believe one of the Fruitarian subgroups embraces that diet because the consume only food that would have naturally fallen from the tree without harming it. There is, I believe, some controversy about grain, given the threshing thing.

FRUIT IS FREEDOM

Tord Åredal 1996

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The "less-killing principle" or the "non-killing principle" is an important part of fruitarianism. The less violence, the more love. Violence and killing in all forms should be rejected to make room for love.

A loving consciousness comes from a life without unnecessary killing and violence. The way of life that represents the "less-killing principle" the most is the fruitarian way of life!

And talk about recycling! The fruit tree gives me my food and I give back the seeds to nature so other trees can grow. When the fruit trees are old I can use them as timber or make a fire to heat my house with them. My influence on nature has come to a minimum, my body is free from disease, my consciousness is loving, and my soul feels FREE.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I have great respect for the concept that it's unethical to kill a living thing simply to eat. . .

You mean there is a way to feed yourself without killing living things?

It's impossible to live without killing bacteria, but if we limit this to visible creatures, it probably is possible to eat without killing any, if you restrict yourself to dairy, fruits and seeds (no plant killing), and you could throw in unfertilized eggs. You could also eat certain kinds of leaves without killing the plant. For example, I used to pick young leaves off cashew trees, and it didn't seem to do any damage to the trees, because there were plenty of older leaves and new leaves grew quickly.

Touché! Good point, Pan!

However, don't you think the probability is very high that on your way to milk the cow and pick the fruit, you will inadvertantly step upon and kill countless tiny but nonetheless visible soil organisms, ants, nematodes, mites and such?

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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I have great respect for the concept that it's unethical to kill a living thing simply to eat. . .

You mean there is a way to feed yourself without killing living things?

It's impossible to live without killing bacteria, but if we limit this to visible creatures, it probably is possible to eat without killing any, if you restrict yourself to dairy, fruits and seeds (no plant killing), and you could throw in unfertilized eggs. You could also eat certain kinds of leaves without killing the plant. For example, I used to pick young leaves off cashew trees, and it didn't seem to do any damage to the trees, because there were plenty of older leaves and new leaves grew quickly.

Touché! Good point, Pan!

However, don't you think the probability is very high that on your way to milk the cow and pick the fruit, you will inadvertantly step upon and kill countless tiny but nonetheless visible soil organisms, ants, nematodes, mites and such?

Yep! (Though one could make the point that you didn't see them when you were walking.)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Which brings me to the next rhetorical device on our agenda: anthropromorphizing.  See, for me to have been using that, I'd have to give the geese human phsychological characteristics: the ability to feel sorrow or joy, to be pure or currupt, to speak the truth or deceive children, that sort of stuff.  We're actually arguing the more mundane question of whether geese feel pain and do they feel it during foie gras production.  I suspect that's biology, not literature.

To the extent that it adds anything to this debate, I'd like to clarify a little on the anthropomorphization front. First of all, as do most people, you make a mistake in assuming that pain is a physiological or neurological phenomenon, which it is not. It is a psychological phenomenon. Advanced animals, like human beings and ducks, have specialized nerves called nociceptors that respond to high levels of mechanical, thermal or chemical stimuli. The activation of these nerves combines with other sensory stimuli and is processed inside our complex brains into the perception we know as pain. The perception and processing part is the important part, not the stimulus part. There is an entire theory of how pain works called "gate control" which asserts that pain happens only in the brain. So, to the extent that we make the assumption that ducks experience pain in the same way as humans, we anthropomorphize, which means "to attribute human form or personality to things not human." And, of course, if we go the direction of supposing that even nonpainful gavage would cause inhumane levels of "stress" in ducks and geese, we're going straight into the realm of animal psychology.

We make a similar mistake when we use our own physiology and psychology to form assumptions about things like gavage. There are plenty of things that might not particularly bother a duck or a cow that we, as humans, would find very distressing or painful. For example, I'm guessing that humans would be very stressed out at being formed into a line and marched into the slaughterhouse like cattle are. Does this mean that it is unacceptably inhumane to do the same with cows? Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. One thing we try to do is figure out how we can tell if the cows are unacceptably distressed. In the case of cows, a seriously freaked out cow actually results in characteristically lower quality meat. In the case of ducks and geese, there are other indicators (largely physiological and hormonal, but also behavioral) that can be examined to determine if the animals are unduly stressed by gavage. If my recollection is correct, some of this research has been done and it was determined that the animals were not unduly stressed. And I believe it is also the case that a stressed animal also results in lower quality foie gras, so it is actually in the producer's best interest to avoid undue stress to his ducks or geese.

So. . . once we come around to the idea that there are things one can do to/with various domestic animals without causing undue stress that one could not do with humans or other animals without causing undue stress (and vice-versa), you have to try to look at it from the duck's perspective to the greatest extent possible. For example, I don't think anyone would consider it cruel if humans weren't given enough gravel in their feed, while this might very well be the case for animals like ducks and chickens who use a gizzard to grind their food. Similarly, we shouldn't make the assumption that just because having food decanted into our own stomachs with a tube sounds extremely unpleasant and painful, that the same would be true when feed is decanted into the gizzard of a duck with a tube. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that this is not the case.

Now, one can make the argument that the domestication and slaughter of animals for human consumption for food is inherrently cruel (indeed I believe this is the underlying philosophy of most of those driving the various anti-foie gras movements). If you accept the idea that it can be okay to domesticate and slaughter animals for human consumption, then you have to decide what you think is an acceptable way to do that. Now, I suppose we'd all like to believe that the animals we eat are raised in idyllic "Farmer Brown" free-roaming situations until they are lovingly slaughtered by a teary-eyed Farmer Brown while Mrs. Brown sings a soothing song in the background. But the reality is that it has never and will never be that way. That said, the raising of ducks and geese for foie gras comes as close to that scenario as any method of animal husbandry with real scale of which I am aware.

From what I have been able to gather by trying to understand duck physiology/psychology and the best methods of producing foie gras, I just can't believe that a limited period of gavage at the end of which, yes, the ducks may become very heavy, is any more inherrently cruel than any other way we raise domestic animals for slaughter. Indeed, I think the whole practice of domesticating and raising animals for slaughter and human consumption would be substantially more humane (or perhaps I should say "chickenmane" and "cowmane" and "pigmane" as appropriate) if only it were as good as it is for ducks and geese raised for foie gras. Can anyone think of a single animal husbandry practice of comparable scale that is even remotely in the same category?

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No, personally I can not think of one.

But on the other hand, I think it is just as cruel and hurtful (inhumane?) to see those human beings that inhabit McDonaldland (hmmm. . .Old McDonald had a farm ee ii eii o) shovelling huge double burgers jumbo fries and supersize sodas down their gullets apparently in search of the goal of their own bodies becoming every bit as engorged as any lovely piece of foie gras.

What a waste. After all, nobody bothers to make a fine meal out of them.

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Can anyone think of a single animal husbandry practice of comparable scale that is even remotely in the same category?

No first hand knowledge, but tales of kobe beef production sound similar or even more lavish. e.g http://www.askthemeatman.com/kobe_beef.htm

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

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Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Okay, that's one example. And, one could argue that there are things about the production of Kobe beef that are less humane as those used in the production of foie gras. For example, the reason these cows are massaged is because they are permitted so little exercise that their muscles get sore. They are fed beer as an appetite stimulant because muscle soreness decreases appetite. And, of course, one could argue that the level of fattiness and corpulence produced in this cattle is every bit as "pathological" as the fatty livers of ducks and geese raised for foie gras. Funny, though, that no one seems to campaign against Kobe beef.

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Which brings me to the next rhetorical device on our agenda: anthropromorphizing.  See, for me to have been using that, I'd have to give the geese human phsychological characteristics: the ability to feel sorrow or joy, to be pure or currupt, to speak the truth or deceive children, that sort of stuff.  We're actually arguing the more mundane question of whether geese feel pain and do they feel it during foie gras production.  I suspect that's biology, not literature.

To the extent that it adds anything to this debate, I'd like to clarify a little on the anthropomorphization front. First of all, as do most people, you make a mistake in assuming that pain is a physiological or neurological phenomenon, which it is not. It is a psychological phenomenon. Advanced animals, like human beings and ducks, have specialized nerves called nociceptors that respond to high levels of mechanical, thermal or chemical stimuli. The activation of these nerves combines with other sensory stimuli and is processed inside our complex brains into the perception we know as pain. The perception and processing part is the important part, not the stimulus part. There is an entire theory of how pain works called "gate control" which asserts that pain happens only in the brain. So, to the extent that we make the assumption that ducks experience pain in the same way as humans, we anthropomorphize, which means "to attribute human form or personality to things not human." And, of course, if we go the direction of supposing that even nonpainful gavage would cause inhumane levels of "stress" in ducks and geese, we're going straight into the realm of animal psychology.

Not to get all etymylogical, but a scan of on-line definitions confirms my thought that anthropomorphism exists largely metaphorically, rhetorically and, of course, theologically (think of all those river gods). The "personality" part of your definition. Thus my ascribing of human-like pain to an animal, based as it is on (however flawed) observation or logic, is not the result of a Will To Anthropomorphize.

At any rate, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

You say that pain is not a neurological phenomenon, and then go on to talk about neurons. Odd, that. You also discuss the similarities of human beings and ducks without noting any differences which might account for different perceptions of pain -- or shall we call it "pain." It appears that the stimili how can stimuli not be physiological) reach both the human brain and the duck brain through very similar paths, where do they diverge and how do we know?

I'm open to suggestion, but I'm very skeptical of people who have never talked to a duck, making too many comments about what ducks do and do not feel. :wink: There's a certain "who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes," quality to that type of argument. We know humans feel pain. We're pretty sure paramecia don't. Is there a point somewhere in between (primates? cows? lizards?) where pain becomes part of consciousness, or are we humans the only ones blessed with the psychological capacity for this facet of nature?

Whether or not gavage is particulalry painful is a different argument. I've heard a lot assertions on either side, I just haven't seen much proof. I'd be curious to find the results of the duck stress test (or volunteer to evaluate one).

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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If the decision as to moral or ethical finalities comes down to a measurement of anthropomorphism as deductive reasoning, then probably one should bring in the discussion of plants, too.

There are several biology professors I know who can argue well and long that plants (even the ones we eat) feel pain.

Based on things like stress tests, you know.

Personally my own viewpoint turns more often to seeing people who resemble animals (whatever that word would be) or alternately, plants - (people and cornstalks always seem a good comparison to me) in many ways, not in seeing animals who resemble people.

Seems a bit self-involved, this anthropomorphism idea.

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No, personally I can not think of one.

But on the other hand, I think it is just as cruel and hurtful (inhumane?) to see those human beings that inhabit McDonaldland (hmmm. . .Old McDonald had a farm ee ii eii o) shovelling huge double burgers jumbo fries and supersize sodas down their gullets apparently in search of the goal of their own bodies becoming every bit as engorged as any lovely piece of foie gras.

What a waste. After all, nobody bothers to make a fine meal out of them.

would you want to eat meat from an animal that had been largely fed quarter pounders??? :shock:

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The article in question actually showed a fairly balanced approach to the question. That the ultimate conclusion of the author was indecisive was, however, IMO a copout. This was probably because the magazine wished not to offend either camp.

Maybe, maybe not. I'm inclined to believe that the author looked at the issue carefully, and just couldn't come down on one side or another. Michael Saunders is similarly undecided in his account of foie gras production in From Here You Can't See Paris. And people have complained to me that they wish my foie gras piece had ended on a decisive note. I held off on the last paragraph because I knew people would expect some sort of decision. Finally, I couldn't make one and said so. While you can buy cows that have been raised humanely, etc., you can't buy foie gras made without force feeding the birds, so it is, in that respect, different enough to stay gray for me.

So I don't think of it as a cop-out. But the assumption that a neutral stance equates to waffling is a common one.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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Not to get all etymylogical, but a scan of on-line definitions confirms my thought that anthropomorphism exists largely metaphorically, rhetorically and, of course, theologically (think of all those river gods).  The "personality" part of your definition.  Thus my ascribing of human-like pain to an animal, based as it is on (however flawed) observation or logic, is not the result of a Will To Anthropomorphize.

What the heck, let's get a little etymological. :smile: A nice article on Wikipedia has this to say:

<blockquote>Anthropomorphism, a form of personification (applying human or animal qualities to inanimate objects) and similar to prosopopoeia (adopting the persona of another person), is the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to non-human beings, objects, or natural phenomena. Animals, forces of nature, and unseen or unknown authors of chance are frequent subjects of anthropomorphosis.</blockquote>

I would say that the key part of this is "the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to non-human beings" -- which is what I think we are talking about here. In particular, "the attribution to the duck of a human being's reactions with respect to being raised for foie gras." This is along the lines of assertions such as "it causes ducks tremendous stress to be fed by gavage and is therefore cruel" or "it hurts the ducks to have a tube put in their throats" which are based on our thoughts about what it would be like to experience those things ourselves as human beings with human psychology and human physiology. But again, as long as we know what we're talking about, I guess it doesn't matter what we call it.

You say that pain is not a neurological phenomenon, and then go on to talk about neurons.  Odd, that.  You also discuss the similarities of human beings and ducks without noting any differences which might account for different perceptions of pain -- or shall we call it "pain."  It appears that the stimili how can stimuli not be physiological) reach both the human brain and the duck brain through very similar paths, where do they diverge and how do we know?

You are the one who first made the point that you suspect the question as to whether geese feel pain and whether they feel it during foie gras production is a question of "biology, not literature." It is a question of psychology as to whether and how they experience pain, because the perception of pain has to do with how various neurological signals are processed by the brain. For example, take the lobster: we know that lobsters will react to some stimuli that would be processed as "painful" by humans. However, it happens to be the case that a lobster's neurological makeup is simply not complex enough to create the psychological condition we know as "pain." A lobster who has his claw torn off experiences something... but it is not pain.

Now, I am not suggesting that duck neurophysiology and psychology are so simple or different that ducks do not experience pain (although I do think it is different from the way humans experience pain). What I am suggesting is that we need to consider the vast differences between ducks and humans before making judgments as to what ducks might feel in certain circumstances, and that includes pain and psychological distress. I would suggest that there are things that are perceived as painful and psychologically disturbing for humans that are perceived and processed very differently by lower animals with less complex psychology and different physiology.

But perhaps more important than the psychology is the physiology. As has been brought up a zillion times in previous discussions on gavage, the physiology of a goose or duck esophagus is radically different from the esophagus of a human -- it is hard and calcified and adapted to far different materials. This is partly because ducks and geese do not have teeth and often pass hard, sharp and relatively large objects down their esophagi. Indeed, ducks and geese are known to swallow things that would be damaging and dare I say painful to a human esophagus. Given the sort of things that ducks and geese pass down their esophagi without a second's hesitation, one is led to the conclusion that they are drastically different from humans with respect to situations that will cause them to perceive pain associated with the esophagus. This is due to a mixture of physiology (the composition of the esophagus), neurophysiology (a duck esophagus is not innervated the way a human esophagus is) and psychology (ducks are comfortable having things in their esophagi that human beings are not).

To proceed from the assumption that ducks and geese are fundamentally similar to humans in this way is a failure to account for these wide differences.

I'm open to suggestion, but I'm very skeptical of people who have never talked to a duck, making too many comments about what ducks do and do not feel. :wink: There's a certain "who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes," quality to that type of argument. 

Well, I'll tell you what I'm skeptical of. I'm skeptical of the logical argument that goes like this: "1. If someone put a tube down my throat and decanted extra food into my stomach every day, I bet it would really hurt and I bet it would cause me a lot of psychological distress. 2. I conclude from 1 that it must be the same for ducks and geese. 3. Due to 1 and 2 above, I conclude that this practice is causing pain and psychological distress to ducks and geese. 4. This practice is horribly inhumane and must be stopped!" The problem is right there in number 2 above. Not only do we have no reason, other than what I will call anthropomorphization, to make the conclusion reached in number 2, but we have many reasons to make a very different conclusion.

Whether or not gavage is particulalry painful is a different argument. I've heard a lot assertions on either side, I just haven't seen much proof.  I'd be curious to find the results of the duck stress test (or volunteer to evaluate one).

What I have read is that stress leads to increased production of epinephrine, which in turn leads to veiny, lower quality foie gras.

It is quite clear to me that there are parts of the foie gras process that can be cruel and inhumane. I'm simply not convinced that it necessarily has to be that way -- and I think a reasonable line may be drawn by those who do not oppose all domestication and slaughter of animals for human consumption. When I see that a place like Hudson Valley Foie Gras uses the most modern techniques, has low mortality and produces a high percentage of A grade foie gras, and when I read reports (several of them posted in these forums) from unbiased visitors to the effect that the ducks there didn't "seem stressed," it makes it hard to believe that the ducks there are being tortured on a daily basis.

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So, shouldn't we really draw a distinction between the process of producing Foie Gras istelf (ie force feeding) and the "cruel" domestication of animals in general? If the geese or ducks live a good life, with low mortalitly rates and in spacious coops and produce a fine piece of liver why would someone attack their production as opposed to a piece of $0.99/lb of Tyson chicken?

What I am trying to say is, foie gras in itself is not the problem here. It's the way the animal is raised, whether it is a goose for foie, a chicken for chicken fingers or a pig for bacon. The only reason as far as I could tell Foie Gras is under attack has already been pointed out. They are small producers, catering to a small part of the market, with not enough resources for their own defense like a chicken producing conglomerate would have.

E. Nassar
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slkinsey, I agree with everything you have said, except when you said

you make a mistake in assuming that pain is a physiological or neurological phenomenon, which it is not. It is a psychological phenomenon.
This statement is grossly untrue. Pain is very difinately physiological and neurological even as there is also a psychological component to it. In my job I eliminate pain using approaches that have very specific effects on people's neurologic physiology. Whenever I do a nerve block, I eliminate the sensation of pain (though not necessarily the stimulus) by interrupting the neurophysiologic pathway of the stimulus. Just because the ultimate processing of the sensation of pain occurs in the CNS doesn't mean that the process is purely psychological.

That being said, I agree that the anatomy and physiology of ducks and geese are sufficiently different than that of humans and the reasons you pointed out that the perception of careful gavage to these animals as painful is a conclusion based on anthropomorphism and not on logic.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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What I am trying to say is, foie gras in itself is not the problem here. It's the way the animal is raised, whether it is a goose for foie, a chicken for chicken fingers or a pig for bacon.  The only reason as far as I could tell Foie Gras is under attack has already been pointed out. They are small producers, catering to a small part of the market, with not enough resources for their own defense like a chicken producing conglomerate would have.

Exactly. (You said it better than I, and better than the article.) The writer also makes the point that some say the larger agenda is veganism for all. You know, because it's better for us physically and morally. Or so they say. Whoever the hell they are!

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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The article in question actually showed a fairly balanced approach to the question. That the ultimate conclusion of the author was indecisive was, however, IMO a copout. This was probably because the magazine wished not to offend either camp.

Maybe, maybe not. I'm inclined to believe that the author looked at the issue carefully, and just couldn't come down on one side or another. Michael Saunders is similarly undecided in his account of foie gras production in From Here You Can't See Paris. And people have complained to me that they wish my foie gras piece had ended on a decisive note. I held off on the last paragraph because I knew people would expect some sort of decision. Finally, I couldn't make one and said so. While you can buy cows that have been raised humanely, etc., you can't buy foie gras made without force feeding the birds, so it is, in that respect, different enough to stay gray for me.

So I don't think of it as a cop-out. But the assumption that a neutral stance equates to waffling is a common one.

It is certainly not inconceivable that theauthor of this piece truly is unable to draw a decisive conclusion. I believe, however, that given the strong feelings that this subject arouses, that even if he had a conclusion on either side of the argument, the magazine likely would have tempered it to the degree published anyway simply to avoid the possibility of alienating parts of its constituency.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I think we're maybe not understanding each other, doc. I think it goes like this:

1. Nerves send signal to brain

2. Brain interprets these signals and assigns quality "pain."

You don't usually have 2 without 1, of course. This is what you do when you interrupt the neurophysiologic pathway of the stimulus. But would you not agree that it is possible to have 1 without 2 -- to have a stimulus that might produce the sensation of pain but to not have the actual pain? Various meditation techniques, I think, demonstrate that this is true.

I didn't make up this assertion, of course. The idea that pain takes place in the brain is the whole premise behind gate control.

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I think we're maybe not understanding each other, doc.  I think it goes like this:

1. Nerves send signal to brain

2. Brain interprets these signals and assigns quality "pain."

You can't have 2 without 1, of course.  This is what you do when you interrupt the neurophysiologic pathway of the stimulus.  But would you not agree that it is possible to have 1 without 2 -- to have a stimulus that might produce the sensation of pain but to not have the actual pain?  Various meditation techniques, I think, demonstrate that this is true.

I didn't make up this assertion, of course.  The idea that pain takes place in the brain is the whole premise behind gate control.

The only point I am arguing is your use of the word "psychological" and the denial of physiological and neurological. While in either case "it might all be in one's head", so to speak, the distinction is an important one. That there are situations in which the response to pain is unusually well controlled using "psychological" techniques is certainly true. That there isn't an underlying physiologic explanation is another question entirely. That the physiology may not be very well understood at this time does not mean that it is not present.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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