Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why the Anti Foie Gras Movement will Fail

The news this week that the Chicago City Council voted to repeal a ban on the sale of foie gras is yet another indication that the campaign by animal rights activists to abolish the industry will not succeed because, I believe, the socio-political and emotional foundation of the argument against the industry is fundamentally flawed. The animal rights organizations behind the campaign to destroy the tiny American foie gras industry assume that the public will become senseless with class envy, and take their side once they understand that foie gras is a "luxury liver product targeted at the rich." They also wrongly assume that some critical number of celebrities will side with them and influence ordinary Americans to take on their cause.*

But what the people in charge of policy at organizations like PETA (People for the the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and HUSUS (The Humane Society of the United States) don't seem to understand, is that those who will be most affected by the destruction of the industry are blue-collar farmers and chefs who, unlike many who can afford to work for non-profits, do not have enviable work schedules and incomes. Neither are the customers who dine on foie gras the objects of class hatred that the animal rights people would like to believe. Most Americans are aspirational by nature, and rather than despise those who can afford to put down 2o dollars for a 4 ounce serving of terrine de foie gras, fully expect that they will do the same thing at some point.

Another problem that the anti-foie gras people have is that their opponent is the smaller dog in the fight -and the public almost always sides with the underdog. To wit

Revenue (only)

  • Foie Gras Sales US 17, 000,000 (2003)

While it is obvious from these numbers that the two principal enemies of foie gras have combined incomes that are almost ten times greater than the duck farmers who produce it, when you consider how the monies involved are used, it becomes painfully obvious that the foie gras producers are at a tremendous disadvantage in this fight. For example, according to one source, 69% of the income of HUSUS is used for "program expenses." That's approximately 82 million -tax free- dollars, or 5 times the total dollars from sales of foie gras to spend on various campaigns to promote animal rights and fight the foie gras industry -and we have not even counted in what PETA and other groups spend.

I have no idea how much the two companies that produce domestic foie gras spend defending themselves from the campaign of disinformation, physical attacks and litigation that is paid for or inspired by these two powerful special interests, but I cannot imagine that it is any more than a fraction of what is spent by the opposition.

Now about the celebrity endorsement thing. True, many, many people seem to lose their critical thinking skills when a celebrity enters their orbit, opens its mouth and speaks. But for most of us the affect, if any, is temporary because we understand that when a celebrity like Wolfgang Puck (who announced last year that he would no longer serve foie gras) makes a political statement he is often talking because he hopes to a) attract attention to himself b) attract attention to his business c) get someone off his back. In other words, by "enlisting" the help of celebrities in their cause, animal rights activists may overestimate the power of people like Wolfgang Puck to influence the debate, because we understand that their motives typically owe more to self-interest and preservation than selflessness.

Finally, the anti-foie gras opposition, whose most visible and vocal members include many who lead what might be called "alternative life styles," are not nearly as attractive and sympathetic to the American public as are the more mainstream, hard working farmers and chefs who produce and serve the nation's duck liver. If the anti-foie gras folks hope to prevail in their struggle to abolish the industry, they are going to have to rethink their strategy and alter their image and become more appealing to ordinary Americans. Otherwise, they lose.


Note: For the purpose of economy of space, I chose to cite only a few elements of the strategy that is used in the campaign by animal rights activists to take down the foie gras industry.


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