Sucks For Everyone(thing) Involved

73533159_b43807ae55_oIf you eat Foie Gras, stop now, for so many reasons.

From the NY Times, by Bob Hebert

State of Shame

The building housing the ducks in this lush region of the Catskills in upstate Sullivan County was huge, a cross between a gigantic Quonset hut and an airplane hangar. The ducks, tens of thousands of them ready to be slaughtered for foie gras, were stuffed and listless in their pens. It was a very weird scene. Genetically unable to quack, the ducks moved very little and made hardly any noise.

Animal-rights advocates have made a big deal about the way the ducks are force-fed to produce the enormously swollen livers from which the foie gras is made. But I’ve been looking at the plight of the underpaid, overworked and often gruesomely exploited farmworkers who feed and otherwise care for the ducks. Their lives are hard.

Each feeder, for example, is responsible for feeding 200 to 300 (or more) ducks — individually — three times a day. The feeder holds a duck between his or her knees, inserts a tube down the duck’s throat, and uses a motorized funnel to force the feed into the bird. Then on to the next duck, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

The routine is brutal and not very sanitary. Each feeding takes about four hours and once the birds are assigned a feeder, no one else can be substituted during the 22-day force-feeding period that leads up to the slaughter. Substituting a feeder would upset the ducks, according to the owners of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, which operates the farm.

Not only do the feeders get no days off during that long stretch, and no overtime for any of the long hours, but they get very little time even to sleep each day. The feeding schedule for the ducks must be rigidly observed.

When I asked one of the owners, Izzy Yanay, about the lack of a day of rest, he said of the workers: “This notion that they need to rest is completely futile. They don’t like to rest. They want to work seven days.”

Covering this story has been like stepping back in time. Farmworkers in New York do not have the same legal rights and protections that other workers have, and the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry has taken full advantage of that. The workers have no right to a day off or overtime pay. They don’t get any paid vacation or sick days. When I asked one worker if he knew of anyone who had a retirement plan, he laughed and laughed.

To understand how it’s possible to treat farmworkers in New York this way you have to look back to the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt was trying to get Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide basic wage and hour protections for workers. Among the opponents were segregationist congressmen and senators who were outraged that the protections would apply to blacks as well as whites.

Most agricultural and domestic workers were black, and the legislation was not passed until those two categories of workers were excluded. New York State lawmakers, under heavy and sustained pressure from the agriculture lobby, have similarly exempted farmworkers (the vast majority of whom are now Latino) from most state labor law protections.

There was a good chance — right up until Monday, when the State Senate went through a sudden and cataclysmic change from Democratic to Republican control — that something might be done about this legislatively. On Monday evening, the Assembly passed (and Gov. David Paterson has promised to sign) a bill extending much-needed labor protections to farmworkers, including the right to at least one day of rest per week and, more important, the right to bargain collectively.

Republican senators were split on the bill, however, and the New York Farm Bureau, the lead lobbying agency for the agriculture industry, is furiously opposed to passage. With the upheaval in the Senate, the fate of the bill, called the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, is unknown.

A major supporter of the bill, the Rev. Richard Witt, executive director of the Rural and Migrant Ministry of New York, said the Senate shift would have no effect on the campaign for passage of the bill. Another supporter, Kerry Kennedy, founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, also said she will continue to push hard for passage.

“It’s shocking that these conditions could exist in New York State,” Ms. Kennedy said. “We talked to a worker who had not had a day off in 10 years.”

That is not an argument that carries much weight with the Farm Bureau. Sounding like an echo of Mr. Yanay, the bureau’s spokesman, Peter Gregg said, “They don’t want days off. The farmworkers want to work. They came here to make money.”

One response to “Sucks For Everyone(thing) Involved

  1. Mmmmm, tasty goose liver. I love it as a sandwich on really good French bread. But a dab on a biscuit is good, too. Do you think Whole Foods carries it? I’m off to get some to take on my next delivery.

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