The Israeli Supreme Court: Force-feeding of Geese and Ducks Violates the Law
Jerusalem, August 11th, 2003The Israeli Supreme Court ruled today in a detailed decision, that force-feeding of geese and ducks, as practiced in Israel, is in violation of the law, and that regulations that allowed this practice are not valid. The Court gave the industry a period of about a year and a half (until March 2005) before the ban is enforced. Israel is one of the world's major producers of foie gras. The Israeli industry exploits mainly geese. The decision is one of very few decisions of national courts worldwide on the welfare of animals used in the food industry.
This decision has resulted from years of investigation and campaigning by animal protection organizations in Israel and worldwide. In Israel, the campaign was led by Anonymous for Animal Rights. Activists of Anonymous documented the dreadful cruelty to geese and ducks all over Israel. Their affidavits - and the shocking photos and video they showed in the courtroom - were essential to the success of this petition. Not less important is the public atmosphere, supportive to such a decision, which was created through long and intensive grassroots work. Starting with general ignorance as to the nature of force-feeding, the Israeli public reached a point where foie gras is perceived as morally-defective food. A recent survey proved that 69% of Israelis perceive force-feeding of geese and ducks to be animal-abuse.
The Court's Decision
No immunity to agricultural practiceThe majority opinion was written by Justice Ms. Tovah Strasberg-Cohen. "The 'needs of agriculture' do not always override the interest of animal protection" Writes Justice Strasberg-Cohen, "Not every suffering caused to the animals should withdraw when confronting the 'needs of agriculture'. Long-time accepted agricultural practices are not immune from the application of article 2(a) of the Animal Protection Act [prohibiting animal abuse]…"
Describing the crueltyJustice Strasberg-Cohen describes the process of force-feeding: "In the process of force-feeding, the goose is prevented from feeding freely, and is force-fed several times every day with a high-energy food in a quantity that greatly exceeds the quantity necessary for his physiological needs. The process, in which a metal tube is inserted into the goose's throat, through which food is compressed into his stomach, is violent and harmful. The process causes a degenerative disease of the goose liver, and its enlargement up to 10 times its original size."
Illegal on the balance of interestsJustice Strasberg-Cohen discusses the regulations which allow this practice and concludes that they contradict the prohibition of animal abuse in the Animal Protection Act. This is so because existing means to reduce suffering were excluded from the regulations, and because the suffering is disproportional when compared to the industry's utility. Finally, she opens a door to future regulations that will significantly reduce the suffering of the birds, and strictly monitor the industry. However, notes Justice Strasberg-Cohen elsewhere, at present such practices are not available.
Animal emotions, human dignityJustice Mr. Eliezer Rivlin agrees in a short poetic opinion: "As to myself, I have no doubt in my heart that wild creatures as well as pets have emotions. They are endorsed with soul that experiences the emotions of joy and sorrow, happiness and grief, love and fear. Some of them nurture special feelings towards their friend-enemy: man. Not everyone thinks so, but no one denies that even these creatures feel the pain caused to them by physical harm or by violent intrusion into their innards. True, whoever wishes so, may find, in the circumstances of this case, prima-facie justification, to the act of artificial force-feeding, which is mainly the need for exhaustion of the breeders' earning sources and the magnification of the gastronomic enjoyment of others; as a paraphrase on the writings (lob, 5, 7), the justifier may say that human welfare should fly upwards, even at the cost of trouble to the birds. But this has a price - and the price is diminishing human dignity.
"Like my friend Justice Strasberg-Cohen, I also think that the regulations on force-feeding are to be invalidated, and the acts of artificial force-feeding, as allowed by the regulation, to be banned."
The cruel nature of factory farming describedThe minority opinion, by Justice Mr. Asher Grunis, is interesting. He describes the suffering caused to animals in factory farming (putting special emphasis on enforced molting in hens and the veal industry), using language that could be taken from an animal rights leaflet. He is concerned of the extensive consequences that banning force-feeding might have on other industries. However, he surely wants to see reforms in these industries. As to the force-feeding of geese and ducks, he describes the current regulations as temporary, and determines that the current arrangement cannot continue without limits - because of the suffering of the birds. He calls for new regulations that will either reduce the suffering or ban the practice (after a transitional period). However, he would not join a decision that would close down the whole industry and cut off the livelihood of people.
The campaign against force-feeding of ducks and geese is not over. Today's decision of the Israeli Supreme Court should serve the worldwide campaign to end this cruelty. However, we already hear of endeavors by the industry to find loop-holes in the decision. Our next battle may be fought in the Parliament. And finally: legal ban is not enough: As long as consumers are ready to pay for these enlarged, fatty, diseased livers, there will always be the person or the country that will commit the cruelty. The campaign to persuade the public to get rid of foie-gras will continue. Anonymous for Animal Rights wishes to thank every person and organization who participated in this campaign, who wrote letters to Israeli authorities, attended vigils in front of Israeli Consulates, provided us with information, and gave us moral or financial support. We will continue to need you in this campaign and in others. Special thanks to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, whose financial support enabled our public campaign.