Omnivore - The dreadful conditions of farm workers in NY

The New York Times' Bob Herbert files a report

Bob Herbert of the New York Times published a column yesterday that is grim on several fronts. It describes the horrific scene of thousands of ducks force-fed in an operation in upstate New York to produce over-sized livers for foie-gras.

But Herbert also describes the horrific working conditions of the company's employees. He writes:

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.

Farm workers have been specifically exempted from laws that protect other kinds of workers from these turn-of-the-last-century conditions. It's hard to believe an employer can legally deny workers any time off. The workers don't have collective bargaining rights to improve their lot, either. Please read the column.