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California Foie Gras Ban Turns Into a New Fight

When meat is outlawed — in this case fatty livers of geese or ducks — only outlaws will eat meat.

Foodies are hoarding all the fatty geese or duck livers they can find, while new foie gras farmers may be setting up right across the border.

Chefs are flaunting the ban on the fatty livers by serving the very French dish known as foie gras.

And California’s restaurant industry is in federal court, asking to have the ban on serving the fatty livers struck down for a long list of reasons.

All of this stems from a 2004 bird feeding law with a rather long trigger for a ban on serving foie gras, the French delicacy made from fatty livers of geese or ducks. The ban went into effect one week ago, on July 1, 2012.

The law bans the production and sale of both foie gras and its byproducts like down for jackets and comforters.

The nearly eight year delay before it took effect was intended to give producers, using the gavage process involving the use of feeding tubes inserted in the throats of the poultry, time to get out of the business.

In the week since the ban went into effect, California restaurants could be subjected to fines up to $1,000 for serving foie gras. The limited supply of product remaining may be why none have apparently cited.

Former State Sen. John Burton, now chairman of the California Democratic Party, was the sponsor of the 2004 bill. ¬†Burton told the Free Republic the law has “nothing to do with meat. It has to do with animal cruelty.”

While animal cruelty was the reason for the ban, questions have been raised about the food safety of foie gras. The argument–which is rejected by USDA–is that force-fed birds develop bacteria or toxins in their blood resulting in a disease that can prove fatal before slaughter. USDA, however, declined a request to put a notice on the label saying: “Foie gras products are derived from diseased birds.”

Chefs and many high-end restaurants in California are not taking the ban lying down. Chicago overturned its ban on foie gras — it appears that how fatty livers are made is less of a concern to policy makers than is the ecological impact of shark fin soup, which is banned.

California groups asked the federal court to strike down the fatty liver ban, mainly because it impacts interstate commerce and may overstep the state’s authority to do so. California has seen other laws struck down for the same reason, most recently on its total exclusion of so-called “downer” animals from federally regulated slaughter facilities.

In the court challenge, the law is also challenged for being too vague to enforce. It includes language to prevent over-feeding, but there are no standards in terms of weight, volume or caloric values.

Sonoma Foie Gras was the only producer operating in California when the 2004 bill was passed. Chefs and restaurants sought unsuccessfully earlier this year to get the California Legislature to withdraw the ban before it was implemented.

As for eating foie gras, L.A. Time food critic Jonathan Gold described the first time he ran across it in France.¬† “It was glorious,” he wrote. “It was not an experience from which I wanted to be saved.”

© Food Safety News
  • This exact issue has already been in court, based on Chicago’s banning of foie gras. Though the city rolled back the ban, the lawsuit failed, and rightfully so.
    The federal case was Illinois Restaurant Association v. City of Chicago.
    As for the vagueness claim, if a person knows enough to label a product “foie gras” then they understand the new law. The vagueness claim in the lawsuit hasn’t a chance of surviving challenge, precisely because the industry knows full well what is or isn’t banned.
    I mean seriously: you have chefs flaunting their disdain for the law by serving a specific substance. Can’t turn around, then, and say no one can understand exactly what substance is being banned.
    Might say the folks kind of shot themselves in their collective feet.
    An excellent take on the Illinois ruling, from Stanford, and what it means for cases such as this
    The downer law was completely different. That was struck down because he state attempting to implement a more rigorous law than exists at the federal level. Federal law preempts state law.
    Legally, it was a good decision; from a food safety perspective, it sucked.

  • susan rudnicki

    I live in Los Angeles, and Jonathan Gold, the rotund gastronomic foodie of the LA Times newspaper, is completely unconcerned with the inadvisability of eating the diseased livers of poultry. No doctor I know would advise delibertatly eating the “waste treatment organ” of a animal suffering from hepatic lipidosis, which is what is induced by humans in force-fed ducks and geese. The abject suffering of these animals is astonishing when one SEES the conditions of their captivity. They are housed in metal caging the size of their bodies, head poking above the top so as to prevent any escape from the machine trundling by. The operator shoves a metal tube and hose down the throat, forcing in gruel that becomes caked all over the bird as it lives in these conditions. The liver balloons to 10 times normal size, causing crowding of the organs, respiratory distress, and blood poisoning—when alcoholics die of similar liver poisoning, we call that disease. Only the fact that they are slaughtered prevents death from the abuse. In some videos shot undercover, birds unable to escape, are attacked and eaten through the rectum by marauding rats infesting these facilities. “Economies of scale” in our sick moral accounting, means these “losses” are built into the profit margin. We don’t need to provide for every food fetish Homo sapiens can devise…

  • Z

    And so drags on another tedious legislative-judicial farce in the epic contest; wingnut vs. whacko, et al, ad nauseum.
    Over-privileged self-absorbed screamers hysterically yammering away oblivious to the real world around them, as if their superficial personal opinions matter in the slightest.

  • Fres

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz….. tedMudd troll
    From Daily Dharma:
    QUESTION: How come some people are skeptical about everybody?
    MASTER: It is because they always lie and exaggerate. Having sowed causes like those, they do not believe in anyone. They have no confidence in anyone because they had been telling lies in this life and in past lives throughout countless eons. Consequently they think other people lie too and find whatever people say implausible.

  • m monty

    Do we still live in the Middle Ages? Do foodies really need foie gras to survive…It’s pretty sad with allll the food out there, that restaurants just can’t survive without it?
    I almost find it humorous that the Presidio Social Club is demonstrating their right to serve it….has anyone ever heard of that restaurant….if that’s the only way that they can get on the food map, I feel sorry for them.

  • Katy

    Does this ban also mean that we will not be able to buy any products (jackets or comforters) filled with down in California?

  • joe

    I hope that everyone congratulating themselves on their sainthood for banning foie gras is reborn as a woman in Saudi Arabia and has to face a life of being covered head to toe in a sheet. That would be cosmic justice for stepping on the personal freedom of their own species in favor of ducks.