When the San Francisco Chronicle first reported that animal-rights activists had attacked Sonoma Foie Gras, owner Guillermo Gonzalez and his two partners in a soon-to-open store/bistro Sonoma Saveurs, it seemed it would be only a matter of time before the businessmen caved.
Perhaps the partners could absorb the cost of repairing vandalized machinery and removing nasty graffiti -- as in "End Animal Torture." But foie gras producer Gonzalez, Laurent Manrique and Didier Jaubert also had to pay a very personal price: Activists sent them threats, glued their car locks, invaded their homes and terrorized their families. In the nastiest episode, animal-rights activists videotaped Manrique's family, including his 2-year-old son, in their home and garden. Then, they sent him the tape.
Why? Zealots from groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Gourmet Cruelty contend that force-feeding ducks is cruel. The fact is, animal-rights types oppose all meat production and would object to foie gras even if employees spoon-fed the ducks and took them for swims thrice daily.
Dr. Francine Bradley, a poultry expert at the University of California/Davis, has been to Sonoma Foie Gras and has nothing but praise for the outfit.
But that won't stop the chain of intimidation. Activists target one party and then target those who have ties to the party. Gonzalez receives threats; vandals attack his business. He starts a new business; the animal thugs harass his partners. And his partners' families.
So this weekend, when the Chronicle reported that Sonoma Foie Gras would improve how it treats its ducks, it appeared as if the Foie-Gras Trois were buckling, by feeding the illusion that the issue is how foie gras is made.
On Monday, Gonzalez said that he always seeks to improve his product and that he wasn't playing up to the animal-rights gang. Jaubert explained that the story involved "a communication problem because we started to be very defensive."
"People don't recognize that this is a war rather than a public relations event," noted Patti Strand of the National Animal Interest Alliance, an Oregon-based group that challenges animal-rights extremists.
Good PR can't beat Gourmet Cruelty when the group boasts on the Internet that leader "Sarahjane Blum and her crew may have broken some laws" when they broke into Sonoma Foie Gras and liberated 15 ducks, "taught them to eat on their own, and even gave them workouts on a water treadmill."
Think. They're proud they terrorize families and destroy small businesses so that ducks can work out.
Worst of all, animal-rights extremists often succeed -- because they'll harass anyone.
British activists targeted Huntingdon Life Sciences, which produces animals for medical research, by harassing employees and shareholders of banks, auditors and insurers that did business with the multinational corporation. As the Financial Times reported, an animal-rights mole obtained a list of employees for Deloitte & Touche, a Huntingdon auditor. Eventually, the auditor quit the account to end the harassment. In order to protect research that saves lives, the British government directed the Bank of England to issue Huntingdon its only corporate account and became the company's insurer.
Frankie Trull of the Foundation for Biomedical Research noted that businesses and medical researchers are forced out of business all the time. "People are afraid to step up and help because they don't want to draw attention to themselves," said Trull. "This is what the animal-rights people bank on.''
They also bank on animal-rights galas featuring glamorous celebrities who pride themselves on their sensitivity.
Think, ducks on a treadmill.