Duck Rescue and Foie Gras Cruelty Exposé
September, 2003 Nationwide, USA

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Activists Take Ducks From Foie Gras Shed

By Marcelo Rodriguez, Special to The L.A. Times. Thursday, September 18, 2003

FARMINGTON, Calif. — With only the dim light of a half-moon to guide them, four Animal Protection and Rescue League members made their way early Wednesday across an abandoned field, around dilapidated, foul-smelling chicken pens, and over a narrow passage through a large manure-filled pond.

After a difficult 1 1/2-mile hike, Bryan Pease, Kath Rodgers, Carla Brauer and a man who identified himself only as "Joe" reached the Sonoma Foie Gras duck shed. Soon, four Peking-Muscovy ducks were free.

The group had been eyeing the site for weeks in preparation for this mission, which they hoped would save the lives of a few ducks that were scheduled to be killed to produce foie gras, an expensive culinary delicacy often sold at high-end restaurants.

To the four, animal cruelty is intrinsic to the production of foie gras, which requires ducks to be pneumatically force-fed large amounts of a corn-based meal in order to enlarge their livers. The controversial feeding practice takes place twice a day over the four-week period before a duck is slaughtered.

The group had conducted such operations previously as part of what it calls "the underground railroad for ducks." But this one was a bit more complicated.

The night before, a Bay Area television station had aired portions of a video the four had shot earlier this year showing conditions at the farm.

"This may not be as easy tonight," said Pease, a veteran of several duck releases, as he crossed through a field in the still night, the brush under the group's feet causing just enough noise to prompt faraway dogs to bark continuously. "After the video, there may be someone there waiting for us."

The video had been released by, an animal rights group that has launched efforts to ban foie gras production in California. Its graphic footage detailed the living conditions of ducks at Sonoma Foie Gras, one of only two producers of the delicacy in the U.S. and the only one in California.

Sonoma Foie Gras leases sheds and some land here, near Stockton, where the ducks are kept.

Pease, like the others, was wearing disinfected clothes, rubber boots, and surgical masks and gloves in order to prevent the spread of Exotic Newcastle Disease, which has recently killed millions of poultry animals in California.

When he realized the locks on the shed had been changed, he quietly tiptoed around the building, just a few yards from the homes of sleeping Sonoma Foie Gras employees, and found an alternative entry: an unsophisticated air-conditioning system made of porous, accordion-like plastic under a constant shower of water.

"We're not about property destruction," Pease whispered to his companions as he labored to remove the long plastic sheet without causing damage. "We're going to leave this thing just as we found it."

After the plastic was removed, Rogers, the smallest of the four, squeezed her way into the shed, and let out a mild yelp as her wet skin made contact with electrified chicken wire used to keep rats out of the building. Making her way through the dark, she groped to find a side door to open for her companions to enter.

For 45 minutes, the four surveyed the inside of the large shed, shooting video of the conditions and inspecting each of the 1,500 or so ducks in the building. Then the group chose the four ducks they deemed "in most need," carefully placed them in two large plastic bins they had brought, and made their way back to the Ford van they had rented for the trip.

Sonoma Foie Gras has been in business for nearly 20 years, but it has come under attack recently from animal-rights activists.

In late July, activists vandalized two homes, including one owned by well-known San Francisco chef Laurent Manrique, and caused a flood in a historic 19th-century adobe building in Sonoma.

Manrique is a partner with Sonoma Foie Gras owner Gonzalez in a separate business venture: a bistro that is scheduled to open across from the downtown plaza in Sonoma this fall.

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