Reversal of Foie Gras Ban Ignites Strong Association Passion

California's ban on the sale of foie gras was overturned last week by a federal court—with an association among the plaintiffs. While restaurant groups largely cheered the move, animal rights groups spoke out against the ruling.

The most controversial dish on the foodie menu is back in California—thanks to a federal court ruling.

Foie gras, the delicacy made of the livers of ducks or geese that have been force-fed, had been banned in the state since 2012, when a 2004 law went into effect. But the ban has long been controversial among chefs and food producers. And now a federal judge in Los Angeles has decided the ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with existing federal law on poultry production: the Poultry Products Inspection Act.

The Los Angeles Times reports that chef Ken Frank at Napa Valley restaurant La Toque had protested the ban by providing patrons with complimentary servings of foie gras and wine. Now, the eclectic eatery will be able to charge for the delicacy.

Restaurateurs, represented in court by California’s Hot’s Restaurant Group, weren’t the only ones who fought the law in court. Two of the plaintiffs came from the duck and goose breeding industry—Association des Eleveurs de Canards et D’Oies du Québec, a Canadian trade group, and a New York foie gras producer, Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

The outcry against the ban received major support from California chefs, around 100 of whom joined a 2012 petition against the law as it was about to be enacted. What’s more, a banner organization called the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS) pushed for humane farming practices in lieu of preventing the sale of foie gras.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), a local group that had sided with restaurateurs on the issue and helped establish CHEFS, called the ruling “well-reasoned.”

“We encourage everyone to place their orders and resume selling immediately,” Donnalyn Murphy wrote on GGRA’s website.

The ruling also won support from libertarian activists. Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillepsie, a onetime board member for the activist group Keep Food Legal, wrote a column for Time in which he argued that the ban was “idiotic and repressive” and that the court decision, however temporary it may be, represents a victory for “food freedom.”

The Other Side

But this being a battle that’s also about animal rights, the federal judge’s ruling may not be the final word. Groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pledged to appeal the ruling.

“The state clearly has the right to ban the sale of the products of animal cruelty, and we expect the 9th Circuit will uphold this law, as it did in the previous round of litigation,” Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said in a statement. “Force-feeding is not an ‘ingredient’ of foie gras, since foie gras can be produced without resorting to such cruel methods.”

PETA went a step further, protesting outside of Hot’s Kitchen (one of the restaurants owned by Hot’s Restaurant Group) and dropping an attack on chefs who supported the ruling.

“Foie gras is French for fat liver, and Fathead is the American word for the shameless chefs who actually need a law to make them stop serving the bloated, near-bursting organ of a cruelly force-fed bird,” the organization contends in its official statement.

PETA noted that while the ruling allows for the sale of foie gras inside California, it explicitly bans its production in the state.

“The state will surely appeal the bad part of this ruling, and PETA believes that this decision will be reversed on appeal,” they added.

It’s not the first go-around for foie gras in court. Back in October the Supreme Court chose not to hear an appeal to a 2013 appeals court ruling upholding the law. The latest ruling was made on different grounds.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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