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DUCK FARM SUES ANIMAL ACTIVISTS
Four admit 'rescuing' birds from foie gras fate
San Francisco Chronicle, Chuck Squatriglia, October 21, 2003
A Central Valley farm that raises ducks by the thousands for the controversial delicacy foie gras is suing four Bay Area animal rights activists it accuses of stealing its birds and engaging in a campaign of harassment and intimidation.
The activists, members of the Animal Protection and Rescue League , readily admit taking -- they called it "rescuing" -- four ducks from the farm near Stockton last month and claim they acted within the law. They welcomed the lawsuit , filed Monday in Stockton by Sonoma Foie Gras , as a chance to showcase what they call the cruelty involved in raising ducks for the French dish.
Foie gras is French for "fattened liver" and is produced by force-feeding ducks large quantities of food. The lawsuit comes as some Bay Area chefs reconsider serving foie gras and activists work toward a statewide ban on its production , which they argue is inherently inhumane and violates state laws prohibiting cruelty toward animals.
How much the animals suffer has been a source of great debate, and owners of Sonoma Foie Gras insist there is nothing inhumane -- or even unnatural -- about fattening ducks to enlarge their livers. They claim the activists targeted in the lawsuit are extremists who have over the past year engaged in increasingly brazen vandalism and harassment and publicly stated that they will continue "liberating" ducks. "What's occurred is a campaign of terror against a family farm and a small family restaurant," said Sam Singer, a spokesman for the farm. "The business owners are drawing a line in the sand and saying they won't tolerate it."
The lawsuit accuses activists Bryan Pease , Kath Rogers, Carla Brauer and a man identified only as "Joe" of trespassing and burglary, and it seeks unspecified damages and an injunction barring them from the farm's property.
Sonoma Foie Gras is a family farm [just what defines a "family farm"?] that has operated in Farmington (San Joaquin County) for 17 years. It is one of just two in the nation that produces foie gras. The farm has as many as 20,000 ducks , which are raised both for meat and for foie gras, according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys for the farm claim in the lawsuit that Pease and an unknown number of other activists broke into four barns on the property in 2002 "and took videos of the plaintiff's ducks in a selective and false light ... to portray the farming conditions in an unfavorable light." That effort failed, the suit claims, when the media showed little interest in the tape and county officials declared that the farm had "very good conditions" and that "all ducks were healthy."
Singer said the harassment continued this summer with the vandalism of Sonoma Saveurs, a food shop in Sonoma that will sell the farm's foie gras when it opens next month, and the homes of Didier Jaubert and Laurent Manrique, executive chef of the San Francisco restaurant Aqua. The two men are partners in both the farm and the food shop. Investigators have not publicly identified any suspects, and Singer said he has no evidence APRL is responsible.
The campaign - which the lawsuit characterizes as a criminal conspiracy - culminated on Sept. 17 when Pease, Rogers, Brauer and "Joe" returned to Sonoma Foie Gras in the dead of night and made off with four ducks. One of the ducks died; the others have not been located. An account of the burglary by a free-lance journalist who was invited along by Pease appeared Sept. 18 in the Los Angeles Times; it claims the ducks have been placed in adoptive homes.
Pease "absolutely" denied that APRL had any role in the vandalism against Sonoma Saveurs, Jaubert and Manrique, and insisted the organization does not condone violence or property damage. But he readily admitted to the videotaping - portions of the tape appear on the group's Web site - and to taking the ducks in what he called a "rescue" operation. "We believe we're upholding California's anti-cruelty law,'' he said. "We don't believe rescuing animals in need of veterinary treatment is the same as someone breaking into a house and stealing someone's property. These are animals that are being tortured and need veterinary treatment." Pease said the birds are force-fed through a tube that is placed down their throats and injects as much as a pound of feed daily into their bellies - a process he said leaves them, after a few weeks, sick, weak and "unable to move." "The amount of weight of food they force into these animals would be the equivalent of a human being forced to eat 30 pounds of food a day," he said. "You can imagine having that much food forced into you."
Singer denied the animals are treated cruelly, and both he and the lawsuit said ducks and other water foul have a long esophagus designed to hold large quantities of food as the birds gorge themselves before migratory flights. "According to the California Department of Agriculture and the prevailing academic and industry standards on such practices, the enhanced feeding of ducks to make foie gras is a non-injurious way of using the duck's natural gorging characteristics," the suit claims.
Pease scoffed at that notion and said APRL will join the organization In Defense of Animals in filing a lawsuit later this week seeking an injunction barring Sonoma Foie Gras from force-feeding its ducks. He said he believes the lawsuit filed against his organization is an effort to curry public favor for the farm and portray APRL as extremist. He also said APRL may return to Sonoma Foie Gras at some point to take more ducks. "I wouldn't rule that out," he said. "We feel it is a moral obligation as long as the anti-cruelty law is being violated."
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