Foie Gras Ban

If Californians did not have enough problems already, they are about to be deprived of delicious, fattened liver. As of July 1, when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2004 “Force Fed Birds” act finally took effect, California became the first state in the nation to ban foie gras.

The law prohibits “a person from force-feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond a normal size” and bans out-of-state sales of foie gras. It does not make the possession or consumption of foie gras illegal, but it does ensure that restaurants serving foie gras will face a $1,000 fine. (Or is that now a “tax,” per SCOTUS?)

The adoption of the law was prompted by efforts from a widespread coalition of animal-rights groups protesting the process of gavage, wherein a farmer force-feeds corn to either a duck or goose so that its liver swells to a desirable size.

To get a sense of the debate surrounding the bill’s initial passage, note the argument of State Senator John Burton, its drafter: He likened gavage to waterboarding and genital mutilation. “We shouldn’t just be cramming a tube down a duck’s throat and forcing in food to make foie gras,” he said.

But, foie gras, a centuries-old delicacy, has since found many vocal defenders in California who are pushing back.

Some, like the newly founded Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS), say the law goes too far. “It would lead to the widespread production and sale of contraband, black-market foie gras that would be dangerous to animal welfare and customers,” the CHEFS website states. Others, including a wide range of prominent restaurants across the state, reject the ban as an assault on a culinary tradition. France, which produces nearly 80 percent of the world’s foie gras, has also weighed in: A spokesman for France’s foreign ministry said in an online press briefing that his country “can only regret California’s decision.”

In the meantime, restaurants are offering decadent foie-gras-farewell events, and citizens are stocking up on the product while they can: “Drunken Duck Speakeasy,” an eight-course, all-foie-gras feast, and foie-gras doughnuts are just some of the last hurrahs planned at eateries around the state. Despite such hoopla, the law seems likely to stand.

And that has real consequences beyond the palates of Californians. Some restaurants and businesses — such as Mirepoix USA, a website that specializes in foie gras — have already relocated out of the state. The Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras company (California’s only foie gras farm) and many others farms nationwide are fearing financial troubles as they brace for the loss of California customers.

Duck, duck, goose: These birds are only the most recent job creators pushed out of the Golden State.

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