In an unusual use of stockholders' privilege, the Humane Society of the United States today demanded that Iroquois Brands Ltd. cease importation of goose liver pate from France if an investigation shows that the pate is produced by methods cruel to geese.
The demand came in the form of a stockholders' resolution introduced during the company's annual meeting by Peter Lovenheim, counsel for the Humane Society.
The Humane Society has declined to reveal the number of its shares, but an Iroquois spokesman says the society owns one, which it bought during the past year.
Lovenheim told fellow stockholders how pate geese commonly are force-fed to enlarge their livers: "The bird's body and wings are placed in a metal brace and its neck stretched. Through a funnel inserted 10 to 12 inches down its throat, a machine pumps up to 400 grams of corn-based mash into its stomach. An elastic band around the goose's throat prevents regurgitation.
"When feeding is manual, a handler uses a funnel and stick to force the mash down. Feeding is repeated two to four times a day for 28 days."
Lovenheim was interrupted once at the beginning of his five-minute presentation by Iroquois Chairman Terence J. Fox, who asked him, "Do you have a profit on your stock?"
"I don't know," Lovenheim replied. "I haven't looked at The Wall Street Journal today."
Lovenheim's action is part of a trend toward higher visibility on the part of the animal protection movement. From modest beginnings in England in the 1820s it has grown to embrace dozens of small but zealous goups worldwide.
In this country, in addition to the Humane Society of the United States with its 200,000 members and seven regional offices, there are 1,500 independent humane societies plus other animal-rights organizations.
In recent years, animal advocates have infiltrated the Institute for Behavioral Research in Silver Spring to charge that monkeys were housed there under inhumane conditions. And, in England, they have claimed to have sent a letter bomb to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher under the aegis of the "Animal Rights Militia."
But for all the obvious targets of animal activists, there are some that are too arcane to capture public attention.
Such was the case with goose liver pate until Lovenheim browsed through the annual report of a company whose stock he had purchased.
Iroquois Brands Ltd. is a diversified manufacturer and marketer of food and nutritional products. Most of its $160 million annual sales (57 percent) is in health products such as Schiff vitamins, Herbal Secrets Salad Dressing and El Molino natural foods. But generating about 1 percent of the company's sales is Edouard Artzner goose liver pate.
Soon Lovenheim was writing a "very polite" leter to Iroquois Chairman Fox, asking whether the company's pate was produced through force-feeding.
A subsequent letter, asking for the company's rules on stockholder resolutions, brought a call saying that Iroquois would investigate.
Last December, the Humane Society filed its stockholder resolution asking Iroquois to investigate the source of its pate. The company urged stockholders to vote it down.
"We recognize that the Humane Society is doing wonderful work," said Brian Dobson, Iroquois' vice president for corporate communications.
"But the FDA approves the importation of the product. Besides, the cost of such an investigation would be in excess of what the line is worth," he added.
When the votes had been tabulated, the Humane Socety's resolution lost, 953,094 to 52,248, but Lovenheim considers it a success. "Usually if you get 3 to 5 percent of the vote it's very successful," he said.