Thursday, August 24, 2006


Foie Gras and Finite Government

It is about opportunity cost, not cruelty

Just in case one of my current 3 readers (this means you donkey!) gets the wrong impression from my ealier posting, my beef (he, he) with the city of Chicago is not that I don't agree that foie gras production is cruel (It certainly seems to be), but that it is an issue best handled by individuals and consumer education rather than by government fiat. What's interesting in the Washington Post article I linked to is that the ban may be having the perverse effect of actually increasing its consumption!

The comments (I'm guessing from Midgie) touch on an underlying and valid issue. Is it proper for the government to regulate the production of foie gras. The answer is yes. Federal, state and local governments all play a role in ensuring that the food we eat is safe and sanitary. The debate then is how far that regulation should go, is it appropriate for the government to take an active role in ensuring that livestock is raised and slaughtered in a humane manner? Again my limited knowledge of such matters indicates that the answer here is probably yes as well. The government regulates how cows may be slaughtered if I am not mistaken. So there is both a rational and factual basis for the City of Chicago's decision to ban the sale of foie gras on cruelty grounds.

However, the power of any government is finite. There are only so many laws that can be enforced and so many issues that a unit of government can ruminate on and pass into law. At some point there is an opportunity cost to passing an ordinance like the foie gras ban. What issue did not get debated by the city council so the foie gras ban could be considered? Has Chicago fixed its dismal public schools (which used to be the worst in the nation)? Has the self-reinforcing poverty and horrors of projects like Cabrini-Greene been eradicated? Are shut-ins being visited? The homeless being fed? Certainly the answer is no.

Does this mean I'm advocating putting the issues of humane treatment of geese on hold forever, or banishing any debate on the matter as the ills of humanity will always overshadow such matters? Again no. I think that geese should be treated humanely, but I also think that goal can be reached without resorting to government and the arbiter in the matter.

The same results can be achieved by activism and education, in fact looking at how things are panning out in Chicago, that may have been the better approach. I offer up The Body Shop or even Starbucks are examples here. The Body Shop (and its ubiquitous stores) built a brand around its cruelty free products. Starbucks only buys coffee from farms the meet certain sustainable environmental practices and pays a fair trade price (rather than market price) for its supply of beans. We can do better for the geese by educating consumers as to why foie gras is wrong, don't think it will work? Check out this link.

As more and more consumers are educated about the cruelty issue, sales will decline and enterprising geese farms will develop humane practices to grow foie gras or will move on to a more profitable (and hopefully more humane) crop. A ban without educating me as to why I shouldn't be doing or eating this, only makes the forbidden fruit that much more desirable. And requiring the government to arbitrate such matters means that some other issue can't be addressed or some other law can't be enforced. It also keeps us away from that slippery slope of over regulation I so ham handedly discussed in the comments to the original post on this issue.

I suppose this is an example of how the line of government power versus individual choice is different for each of us, yet at the same time the desired outcome is one that is shared.

(Links will be added in the AM...can't do it from my mac...Thanks and goodnight!)

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