Federal judge overturns California ban on foie gras being served in restaurants

A federal judge has struck down a three-year-old ban in California that prevented restaurants from serving foie gras.  The dish, made from fatty duck and goose livers, has been a target of animal rights activists in most major cities because they claim that force-feeding the birds is cruel and inhumane.

SFGate:

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles ruled that the state prohibition on the sale of foie gras, a fatty liver dish made from force-fed ducks and geese, illegally encroached upon the regulatory domain of the federal government.

California lawmakers passed the groundbreaking ban in 2004 amid concern that force-feeding poultry is inhumane. The law took effect eight years later, immediately putting a crimp in California’s dining scene, where the French-inspired fare is celebrated at many high-end restaurants for its rich, creamy flavor.

“It goes on the menu tonight,” said Ken Frank, chef and owner of Michelin-starred La Toque in Napa. “All of my sous chefs are jumping up and down. This means chefs in California can cook with their favorite ingredient, just like chefs everywhere else in the world.”

Wednesday’s decision was based on the federal Poultry Products Inspections Act, which regulates the sale and distribution of birds and expressly prohibits states from imposing certain conditions on food. Wilson said California’s foie gras ban had done just that.

Last year, the courts dismissed a different argument against the law that claimed it interfered with interstate commerce. The U.S. Supreme Court in October denied review of that ruling.

Businesses challenge ban

The ban, which specifically outlawed force-feeding birds for the purpose of enlarging their livers and selling them, was challenged by poultry producer Hudson Valley Foie Gras of New York, Hot’s Restaurant Group in Southern California and the Canadian trade organization Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec. The state attorney general’s office defended the prohibition.

In Wednesday’s ruling, Wilson acknowledged that emotions ran high over the matter, writing that his 15-page opinion “touches upon a topic impacting gourmands’ stomachs and animal-rights activists’ hearts.”

Accordingly, reaction was swift if not widespread, as food-frenzied Californians took to social media to praise the end of their time without foie gras while the ban’s supporters lamented the plight of the animals.

A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office said the agency was reviewing the decision. An appeal is possible.

The ban came about, as it has in other cities like Chicago, as a result of a dishonest campaign by PETA that put the force-feeding in the worst possible light, choosing duck farms not typical of North American poultry facilities:

Even if you haven't eaten foie, pretty much everyone is familiar with the abhorrent images of mistreated ducks peddled by PETA and sites like nofoiegras.org, and indeed they are truly disturbing. Ducks crammed into wire cages just big enough to stand in with their filth-encrusted heads sticking out a hole in the front. Their feathers are scraggly and wiry (if present at all), there's often blood coming out of their nostrils, and their faces and feathers are caked with vomit and corn meal. A duck drinks scummy water out of a communal trough running in front of it while just upstream one of its less fortuitous bunkmates sits dead with its head lolling sideways, half submerged in the cloudy green water.

I've no doubt that farms like this exist in the world, and it is a terrible, atrocious tragedy. If this is how all foie—or even all meat—is produced, I'd become a vegetarian today. But video or photographic footage of one badly managed farm or even a thousand badly managed farms does not prove that the production of foie gras, as a practice, is necessarily harmful to the health or mental well-being of a duck. Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I'm going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.

That's the bottom line.  Responsible chefs and restaurant owners will buy their foie gras from responsible farmers.  It can actually be a good marketing strategy to highlight where a restaurant purchases the livers.

PETA pulls this crap all the time – while praciticing their own cruelty to animals.  Wishing to impose their extreme views on the rest of us will no doubt continue.  But the lifting of the ban on foie gras should be celebrated as a victory for common sense.

A federal judge has struck down a three-year-old ban in California that prevented restaurants from serving foie gras.  The dish, made from fatty duck and goose livers, has been a target of animal rights activists in most major cities because they claim that force-feeding the birds is cruel and inhumane.

SFGate:

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles ruled that the state prohibition on the sale of foie gras, a fatty liver dish made from force-fed ducks and geese, illegally encroached upon the regulatory domain of the federal government.

California lawmakers passed the groundbreaking ban in 2004 amid concern that force-feeding poultry is inhumane. The law took effect eight years later, immediately putting a crimp in California’s dining scene, where the French-inspired fare is celebrated at many high-end restaurants for its rich, creamy flavor.

“It goes on the menu tonight,” said Ken Frank, chef and owner of Michelin-starred La Toque in Napa. “All of my sous chefs are jumping up and down. This means chefs in California can cook with their favorite ingredient, just like chefs everywhere else in the world.”

Wednesday’s decision was based on the federal Poultry Products Inspections Act, which regulates the sale and distribution of birds and expressly prohibits states from imposing certain conditions on food. Wilson said California’s foie gras ban had done just that.

Last year, the courts dismissed a different argument against the law that claimed it interfered with interstate commerce. The U.S. Supreme Court in October denied review of that ruling.

Businesses challenge ban

The ban, which specifically outlawed force-feeding birds for the purpose of enlarging their livers and selling them, was challenged by poultry producer Hudson Valley Foie Gras of New York, Hot’s Restaurant Group in Southern California and the Canadian trade organization Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec. The state attorney general’s office defended the prohibition.

In Wednesday’s ruling, Wilson acknowledged that emotions ran high over the matter, writing that his 15-page opinion “touches upon a topic impacting gourmands’ stomachs and animal-rights activists’ hearts.”

Accordingly, reaction was swift if not widespread, as food-frenzied Californians took to social media to praise the end of their time without foie gras while the ban’s supporters lamented the plight of the animals.

A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office said the agency was reviewing the decision. An appeal is possible.

The ban came about, as it has in other cities like Chicago, as a result of a dishonest campaign by PETA that put the force-feeding in the worst possible light, choosing duck farms not typical of North American poultry facilities:

Even if you haven't eaten foie, pretty much everyone is familiar with the abhorrent images of mistreated ducks peddled by PETA and sites like nofoiegras.org, and indeed they are truly disturbing. Ducks crammed into wire cages just big enough to stand in with their filth-encrusted heads sticking out a hole in the front. Their feathers are scraggly and wiry (if present at all), there's often blood coming out of their nostrils, and their faces and feathers are caked with vomit and corn meal. A duck drinks scummy water out of a communal trough running in front of it while just upstream one of its less fortuitous bunkmates sits dead with its head lolling sideways, half submerged in the cloudy green water.

I've no doubt that farms like this exist in the world, and it is a terrible, atrocious tragedy. If this is how all foie—or even all meat—is produced, I'd become a vegetarian today. But video or photographic footage of one badly managed farm or even a thousand badly managed farms does not prove that the production of foie gras, as a practice, is necessarily harmful to the health or mental well-being of a duck. Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I'm going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.

That's the bottom line.  Responsible chefs and restaurant owners will buy their foie gras from responsible farmers.  It can actually be a good marketing strategy to highlight where a restaurant purchases the livers.

PETA pulls this crap all the time – while praciticing their own cruelty to animals.  Wishing to impose their extreme views on the rest of us will no doubt continue.  But the lifting of the ban on foie gras should be celebrated as a victory for common sense.