Of Cows, Ducks and Geese – Beef vs. Foie Gras

I want to revisit Foie Gras, as I think it’s a fairly important point to be made, especially in regard to how we get the meat we get. Plus I wish to address several comments and e-mails that I’ve received. Be forewarned, this isn’t a “feel good” post.

CAFO is an acronym that is short for Confined Animal Feeding Operation. Instead of the pastoral farms that many people believe that the meat we eat on a regular basis comes from, the majority of our meat is supplied by these operations. Pork and Poultry can spend their entire lives in these animal “cities”, while cattle gets six months at a ranch before after their birth before being transported to these agri-business parks.

Cattle are pre-disposed to eating grass. But at the CAFO they are fed grain, or more specifically — corn. According to Michael Pollan in his book “An Omnivore’s Dilemma“, it is for this reason that a great majority of the cows at these locations are sick “to one degree or another”.

Some of the diseases include:

  • Bloat, a disease which the cow’s rumen inflates like a balloon until it presses against the animal’s lungs. Left unchecked, the animal suffocates.
  • Acidosis – Essentially bovine heartburn. This condition can “lead to diahhrea, ulcers, bloat, rumenitis, liver disease” and weakens the immune system to boot.

    With a weakened immune system, several other diseases can make themselves known, including pneumonia, feedlot polio and enterotoxemia.

Several treatments are used to address the aforementioned diseases, including anti-biotics and in the case of bloat, it is common to force an eight to ten foot hose down the esophagus of the cow to help relieve the gaseous pressure with a bit of help from a defoaming agent.

There is currently a 3% mortality rate amongst the cattle at these COFA’s. It is reported that anywhere between 15 to 30% of the cattle slaughtered have abscessed livers.

Now, a theoretical question – Are these conditions better or worse than those suffered by geese and ducks in the creation of foie gras?

Regardless of if you answered “yes” or “no”, your answer probably will lead to further questions. If you think there are two different standards, one for beef and one for foie gras, I’d be curious on how you came to that conclusion.

Personally, when compared against the PETA’s videos, I believe that the COFA’s are more cruel. Granted, I haven’t seen a COFA up close, but finding information in regard to them is not difficult.

For me, I’ve accepted that COFA’s are the way that we can get cheap meat to market. I’m uncomfortable with it, but understand it. I should add that I also avoid COFA grown beef when possible, specifically those found at supermarkets such as Safeway and Krogers. This is admittedly a luxury afforded to me because of where I live. If I lived in a less market-diverse area, I’m not sure how I would make beef purchases.

Which returns me to the question surrounding foie gras and PETA – Why Foie Gras? Why not cattle or pork or poultry?

Technorati Tags: Food, Beef, Foie Gras, Food Ethics

References: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

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