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What’s Good for the Goose…..

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The current issue of Wine Spectator [2] reports on the increasing difficulty Americans’ endure in getting foie gras. One reason:

In February, citing unspecified concerns over food safety, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended imports of foie gras, sausages and pâté from France.

Another reason:

Bills have been introduced in California and New York – the locations of the only U.S. foie gras producers – to halt the force-feeding of birds to make foie gras, which would essentially shut down the businesses. Animal-rights activists argue that the ducks and geese are overfed to the point of becoming ill and are often kept in crammed quarters.

Perhaps the accusations of the animal-rights activists are correct. But why a foie gras ban? If enough consumers are sufficiently concerned about the health and comfort of ducks and geese, foie-gras producers would have incentives to find more humane ways of fattening and keeping their animals – ways that would be used to market foie gras to concerned consumers. (The fabulous supermarket chain Whole Foods [3] is a vibrant testament to the market’s eagerness to satisfy such consumer demands. My wife, Karol [4] – confessedly more sensitive to the welfare of animals than I am – finds Whole Foods attractive largely because of this reason.)

There’s another benefit of relying upon voluntary market adjustments to satisfy consumer concerns about animal welfare: it avoids an unnecessary slope that might well be slippery. This benefit came to mind when I read Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters’s [5]objection to the possible ban on foie gras. Quoting Ms. Waters: “There are just a lot more important things to ban…. How about banning supersized Cokes – things that are creating diabetes and killing people?” Ms. Waters accepts the legitimacy of regulatory bans, but doesn’t find foie gras to be relatively important enough to get the attention it’s now receiving. But what happens once Cokes, Slim Jims, and Big Macs are banned? Foie gras might well be next in line of importance, not only for the ill-effects its production has on ducks and geese but also for the ill-effects its consumption has on humans; the fat content of this delicious stuff is incredibly high. How will Ms. Waters object then?

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