SALEM, Ore. – At Hurley's restaurant in hip Northwest Portland, foie gras (search) isn't anywhere on the menu. You have to ask for it.
Servers will tell you of at least three ways the fattened duck liver delicacy is served, including chef and owner Tom Hurley's (search) signature savory foie gras flan with wild mushrooms.
Hurley's is among several Portland restaurants that have removed foie gras from their menus because of protests by animal rights activists, who would gather outside restaurants with gruesome images of dead and diseased ducks they say are the result of inhumane force-feeding techniques (search) used to produce foie gras.
Opponents say the practice should be outlawed, and persuaded the California Legislature last year to pass a bill that will ban foie gras in 2012 unless producers can prove the technique is humane.
Legislation also is being considered in Oregon, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts that would make it a criminal act even to possess the delicacy. Activists recently persuaded about 10 restaurants to stop serving foie gras in Pittsburgh.
At issue: the force-feeding technique used to produce fattened duck liver.
For the final two weeks of their lives, a stainless steel tube is inserted into the throat of waterfowl twice a day and a measured amount of partially cooked corn is pumped down the esophagus. The technique packs on the pounds quickly, creating a fatty liver.
Some say the protesters — and now legislators — are clueless, and scoff at the idea that birds whose livers alone are worth $75 a pound are mistreated.
But Gene Bauston, co-founder of the animal rights group Farm Sanctuary, says the pictures and videos of foie gras farms show force-feeding is a "cruel and unnecessary practice" that should not be legal.
"There are certain things that are beyond the bounds of acceptable," Bauston said.
Francine Bradley, a poultry specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension Service, said foie gras farms simply take advantage of ducks' natural ability to store a large amount of fat.
She has worked extensively with California's Sonoma Foie Gras, one of only three producers in the nation, and defends the production practice. She said owner Guillermo Gonzales and family have been victimized because they're "viewed as very easy targets for the environmental community."
Meanwhile, Gonzales is focused on clearing the industry that drew him to the United States.
"I am hopeful that the legislators will realize that this is only the tip of the iceberg," Gonzales said, "and that their decision is crucial to the future of animal agriculture in general."