During the 1980s foie gras production slipped almost unnoticed into Sullivan County, New York. The owners of the foie gras farm told the Wall Street Journal that because their moulards are sterile, “they don’t think about mating — only about eating — and we can therefore avoid force-feeding.”

In 1991, an undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) revealed that three times a day, each duck had a metal tube jammed down his throat. A pump then drove large quantities of corn mixture into the duck’s stomach. This procedure causes extensive throat, liver, spleen and gall bladder damage. Frequently, the duck’s internal organs explode because their bodies are stuffed with a larger volume than they can stand. All this to expand their livers to about eight times normal size, which are used to make the gourmet delicacy foie gras (fatty livers) — something that most Americans will never eat or want to eat.

The investigation also revealed ducks routinely being carried around by their necks, ducks having their upper bills cauterized, and baby ducklings killed by tossing them alive into steaming water.

Dr. Tatty Hodge, a veterinarian who accompanied state police on a raid of this farm — then named Commonwealth Enterprises — that substantiated PETA’s findings, said of the ducks: “All had foot problems and leg problems, and many had severe and untreated bumblefoot and/or untreated joint disease. Many of these ducks were unable to walk or stand and were flapping helplessly on their wings … . The force feeding area was unheated, very dimly lit and had poor ventilation and very little air circulation.”

Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Eric Adler filed animal cruelty charges against the owners of Commonwealth Enterprises, but Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen abruptly dropped all charges.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Here in New York, Sullivan County’s foie gras operations remain New York’s shame. Instead of following precedents of most European countries, Israel, Argentina and California, that prohibit foie gras production, the state has given Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Inc. (formerly Commonwealth Enterprises) large grants to expand its operations. In 2006, State Senator Liz Krueger said, “It is simply mind boggling that the Empire State Development Corp. would find subsidizing cruelty to animals to be an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.”

District Attorneys in Sullivan County have continued to refuse to invoke our state’s current anti-cruelty laws to halt foie gas production. Bills in our state legislature that would specifically prohibit force feeding of birds to enlarge their livers routinely died in committee. This year, no legislator has re-introduced this bill.

California’s law that bans both the production and sale of foie gras in California was unanimously affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals. This year, the U.S Supreme Court declined to review this case — paving the way for a similar ban in New York if such a ban was enacted.

Four years ago, Amber Canavan, a volunteer for the Animal Protection and Rescue League, served a 30-day jail sentence in Sullivan County. During an undercover investigation of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Inc., Canavan and her team collected many hours of footage that was used by some animal protection organizations. Canavan and her team “discovered that almost all the birds suffered from untreated sores, respiratory disease and many had broken limbs. One duck was found with a wound on his throat, which was oozing pus, apparently from improper insertion of the metal force-feeding tube. Others were found dead, often with gruel pouring from their beaks.”

Nobody was arrested for cruelty to animals, but Canavan was arrested. She was initially charged with felony burglary and misdemeanor larceny (The alleged theft was the rescue of two injured ducks. She faced up to seven years in prison. After three years of legal proceedings, Canavan finally agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor trespass and to accept the 30-day jail sentence, with the understanding she wouldn’t be compelled to identify any other investigators or return the rescued ducks to the farm.

Another undercover investigation at this farm by Mercy For Animals also revealed commonplace abuse and tormenting of the ducks.

In an April 19, 2019 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo I wrote, “In 1933, Nazi Germany was the first nation to ban the force feeding process. If even a monster like Hitler was appalled by the cruelty of foie gras production, surely a decent man like yourself can step up to the plate to stop it in New York through executive leadership for enforcing existing laws prohibiting cruelty to animals and/or executive orders and initiation of legislation similar to the California law… . Probably more than anyone else, you can — and I believe you should — remove the disgrace of foie gras production from New York.”

I received a form letter signed by Cuomo that thanked me “for sharing your perspective and for joining in the effort to build a new New York,” but which gave me no assurance that I did not waste my time by writing to him.

Greatest need is to not only prohibit foie gras production in New York, but also to ban its production anywhere in the U.S. and its import into our country.

At a time when most elected officials — Democrats and Republicans alike — have tarnished their own souls by ignoring the suffering of the birds victimized by foie gras production, they should hear the words of the late U.S. Senator Richard Neuberger: “People often ask me why I spend so much time protecting the welfare of animals. Dr. Albert Schweitzer often said that one of the real symbols of a truly civilized person is whether he is kind to animals. I have always believed cruelty to animals is a black mark in Heaven. I realize animals do not vote. They do not make campaign contributions to enrich the coffers of politicians. But I will be their friend. I imagine he who spoke the Sermon on the Mount would want it that way, too.”

Joel Freedman of Canandaigua is a frequent Messenger Post contributor.