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Sullivan County Farms Ready To Fight NYC Over Impending Ban On Delicacy Foie Gras

FERNDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A delicacy served in some of the Big Apple's finest restaurants helps put food on the table for hundreds of upstate families.

Most of them are immigrants, who now fear their jobs are in jeopardy thanks to a bill signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, CBSN New York's Tony Aiello reported Tuesday.

One hundred miles from New York City, two Sullivan County farms cover dozens of acres and provide 400 jobs.

"I was like 3 when I came here and I watched my parents work, and I see how well they work and everything," Jennifer Cruz said.

Twenty years later, Cruz is employed at La Belle Farm with her mom, dad and brother, doing work that the New York City Council and mayor say is cruel and should be shut down.

"If we allow cruelty in our midst, it's a poison, it's a cancer that grows," de Blasio said.

"Cruel is not what we do here. Cruelty is them passing laws that leave people out of work and leave people without a place to stay," farm supervisor Marcus Cruz said through a translator.

The farms raise ducks for the delicacy known as foie gras. That's French for "fatty liver."

The process is approved and closely monitored by federal inspectors.

It's also highly controversial. Animal rights activists say the force feeding that is necessary to make foie gras is cruel.

Back in October, activists cheered when the city council approved a law banning the sale of foie gras from force-fed ducks.

Foie Gras
(credit: CBS2)

"Would you want to be force fed with foot-long pole shoved down your throat?" said Allie Feldman Taylor of the group Voters For Animal Rights.

Marcus Henley of Vudson Valley Foie Gras said ducks can swallow entire fish and are not bothered by a feeding hose.

"The actual feeding process takes about 12 or 15 seconds a day, with a tube," Henley said.

And while fatty liver is a medical condition in humans, "With an enlarged liver in waterfowl it means that they're in a nice environment with an abundant food supply," Henley said.

La Belle Farm president Sergio Saravia said not a single member of the city council visited Sullivan County to see how the ducks are treated, or to better understand their business model.

"When you're talking about cruelty and how we treat animals and you don't bother to come upstate, a couple hours away...," Saravia said.

While every part of every duck is sold, it's the expensive foie gras that provides the profit to keep the farms going. Every year at La Belle Farm, 250,000 ducks are raised and processed. The impact on Sullivan County's economy is enormous, Aiello reported, accounting for tens of millions of dollars in one of New York's poorest counties.

The farms have helped hundreds of legal immigrants earn citizenship, and they fund a health clinic and substance abuse center.

With around 1,000 restaurants serving foie gras in New York City, producers say when the ban is phased in, "Being that it's a third of our sales, the effect is devastating. We're done. La Belle Farm will be done if this is to take effect in three years," Saravia said.

Next on the menu will be a court battle and a plea to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration to help challenge a New York City law that could kill jobs and doom Sullivan County farms.

The city said it designed the law to take effect in 2022 in order to give farms time to adapt and adjust to the loss of business.

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