California foie gras ban takes effect

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:

California foie gras ban takes effect

LOS ANGELES–A California law forbidding the sale of foie gras took effect on July 1, 2012, almost eight years after passage–and was challenged in court less than 24 hours later by plaintiffs including Hot’s Restaurant Group, the foie gras trade organization Association des √Čleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Qu√©bec, and Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the upstate New York firm that is the largest foie gras producer in North America.

The plaintiffs argue that the California law violates the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by improperly regulating interstate commerce, and that it is not specific enough in defining foie gras.

Foie gras is a paste made from the fattened liver of a duck or goose who has been force-fed by having grain poured through a tube thrust down the bird’s throat, a process called gavage. Gavage is illegal in Israel, South Africa, and parts of Europe, but is legally protected as part of the “cultural heritage” of France and Hungary.

California becomes the second jurisdiction in the U.S. to attempt to ban foie gras, prescribing a fine of up to $1,000 per day for restaurants which continue to sell it.

Chicago adopted a foie gras ban in 2006, by a 48-1 vote of the city council, but repealed it by a 37-6 vote just two years later, at urging of Mayor Richard Daley. The one restaurant to be convicted of illegally selling foie gras while the Chicago ban was in effect was fined $250 in February 2007.

U.S. District Judge Blanche M. Manning on June 12, 2007 upheld the constitutionality of the Chicago foie gras ban in a 26-page written opinion. However, Chicago restauranteurs usually evaded enforcement by serving foie gras as a “complimentary” addition to menu items such as toast or crackers priced at $20. This meant that technically they were not selling foie gras.

Similar tactics were immediately evident at upscale French restaurants in California, observed Fred Swegles of the Orange County Register. “The day after California began banning foie gras in restaurants statewide, Antoine Price tossed a foie gras party Monday night at his San Clemente restaurant,” Swegles reported. “Price didn’t just include the banned dish in a gourmet $150 meal with wine that he offered his guests at Cafe Mimosa. He made foie gras the centerpiece of all six dinner dishes. It also was the dessert: foie gras wrapped in cotton candy on a stick.”

The message appeared to be partially directed at celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who in February 2012 asked other California chefs to respect the foie gras ban. “We chefs have the ability to create delicious and original dishes our customers will love without causing torment to animals,” wrote Puck, who has long used only eggs from free-range hens, and only pork from pigs raised without the use of gestation stalls.

“Some of those responsible for enforcing the California law have little interest in pursuing chefs who, say, offer foie gras free, perhaps in conjunction with pricey pieces of toast,” wrote Alison Vekshin for Bloomberg News,

“This is not a crime that would be investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department or likely any other municipal police department,” LAPD spokesperson Karen Rayner told Vekshin. San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control deputy director Kathleen Brown “said her agency won’t issue citations to chefs who give away foie gras as a sample or as a bonus to a dish, or who prepare the meat brought in by customers who buy it outside California,” Vekshin wrote.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transexual Compassion founder Andrew Zollman asked fellow activists to demand that San Francisco Animal Care and Control “honor the oaths they took as police officers to uphold our laws, and protect these horrifically abused animals instead of the few people who desire to continue to engage in the abuse.”

“We’re going to come down like a hammer on any chef or restaurant that wants to continue serving this very cruel product,” pledged Animal Protection & Rescue League cofounder Bryan Pease, of San Diego. “We’ll use every legal means available to shut that place down, including lawsuits, protests and boycotts,” Pease said.

The Animal Protection & Rescue League on May 9, 2012 joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, and Compassion Over Killing in suing the USDA for allegedly “violating the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act by allowing adulterated poultry-in the form of foie gras-to be sold to consumers. Under the Poultry Products Inspection Act,” the coplaintiffs explained, “the USDA is responsible for condemning all poultry products that come from diseased birds. Foie gras consists of the pathologically diseased livers of ducks who are force-fed massive amounts of grain, inducing the disease of hepatic lipidosis, which causes their livers to swell to ten times their normal size.”

About 100 California chefs on July 1, 2012 petitioned the California legislature to keep foie gras legal. But they failed to find a lawmaker willing to sponsor a bill to overturn the 2004 law. “I’m not going to allow an issue like that to preoccupy the Legislature,” Senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg(D-Sacramento) told media.

“They’re saying it’s going to hurt their business,” said former Assembly member John Burton, who introduced the foie gras ban in 2004, “but we can remember that they said if people couldn’t smoke in restaurants and bars, they would go out of business then, too. If they think this practice is not a problem,” Burton added, “then let them all sit at a table and let someone cram food down their throats. I’d like to sit all 100 of them down and have dry oatmeal shoved down their throats over and over and over again.”

Guillermo Gonzalez, 60, whose Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras was the only foie gras producer in California, told Stacy Finz, Paolo Lucchesi, and Janelle Bitker of the San Francisco Chronicle that he had trucked the last of his product to 16 customers in San Francisco and closed his business.

“For the last few years, I have been exploring several states,” Gonzalez told the Chronicle, “including Nevada obviously,” because operating a foie gras farm in a nearby part of Nevada would allow Gonzalez to continue living in the Sacramento area. “But it’s not that easy starting over again after 26 years,” Gonzalez said.

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