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California's Foie Gras Ban Gets First Legal Challenge

Foie gras can be served hot or cold. Here, it is served cold and is said to be more flavorful prepared that way.
Foie gras can be served hot or cold. Here, it is served cold and is said to be more flavorful prepared that way.

A first-of-its-kind ban on the sale of foie gras that went into effect in California this week is being challenged in court.

A Canadian exporter of the fattened duck liver delicacy, a foie gras producer based in New York state and a Southern California restaurateur filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday seeking to invalidate the new law, which prohibits products derived from force-fed birds.

Foie gras is made from goose or duck livers that were enlarged by force-feeding ducks through funnel-like tubes.


The lawsuit claims the California ban is vague, written so broadly that it also applies to skins, feathers and other by-products of ducks raised primarily for foie gras, and violates the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause by affecting companies from outside the state. It seeks first a temporary, then permanent barring of the ban's enforcement.

"The Bird Feeding Law does not provide any intelligible measure -- such as weight, volume or caloric value -- by which those involved in the feeding of ducks...may determine at what point a duck has been fed `more food' than the statute allows such their duck products may continue to be sold in California," according to the 19-page complaint.

The California Legislature passed the ban on producing and selling foie gras in 2004, but the law only went into effect on Sunday. Before it did, lawmakers had given the state's only producer, Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, time to come up with a cruelty-free way to fatten a duck's liver, but a new method never materialized.

In the weeks leading up to the law's July 1 start date, chefs and foie gras fans loaded up on the soon-to-be contraband food item with special menus, dinners and parties.

"Instead of keeping foie gras sales in California, the law pushes sellers of foie gras to bordering states where cottage industries will now be set up to get around the ban," Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, said.


"To prevent further confusion and save the time, money, and resources of already cash-strapped government agencies, an injunction is necessary."