The Ban on Foie Gras

Elizabeth Rattner

          According to a California law set to go into effect in July, it looks as though fine-dining establishments across the state of California will no longer be offering foie gras on their menus. In July, California will become the first state to outlaw the production and sale of foie gras. For those of you unfamiliar with the specifics of foie gras (“fatty liver”), it is a delicacy that sells for around $50 per pound. Foie gras is produced when a metal tube is forced down a duck’s throat and into its gullet to feed enormous amounts of corn into the duck three times daily. This process causes the duck’s liver to expand up to ten times its natural size as the duck becomes grossly overweight.  According to many animal-rights activist groups, this is a cruel and inhumane practice (the ducks feel so much pressure that they tear out their own feathers and cannibalize each other, while many others die as a result of their organs exploding or from choking as they are force feed) and groups have been pressuring restaurants to stop serving foie gras for quite some time.

While California may be the first state to implement the law and apply a fine of up to $1,000 a day to restaurants that continue to offer foie gras, California is not the first state to consider the ban. In 2006 Chicago outlawed foie gras, yet the ban was lifted two years later when prominent chefs rebelled.

What is important to note is that the real issue in this legal debate is the method utilized in making the foie gras, and not the serving of duck liver itself. Since the California ban on foie gras directly targets the “production and sale” of foie gras as it is currently made, this seems to be a clear indication that foie gras will be will not be absent from the menus of restaurants in California for very long. The California law was passed in 2004 and was given until 2012 to go into effect. This left eight years for foie gras producers to derive a new method of production for their highly criticized delicacy. Even if producers do not fashion a new method in the next ten months, I do not believe this will mean an end to foie gras in California forever.

As long as Californian gourmets are willing to shell out $50 per pound for the dish, it does not seem likely that producers will simply fold (their feeding tubes) and give up. Another method (one slightly less inhumane) will soon exist, and animal rights groups will have yet another battle to fight. When foie gras producers come back with a new method for creating foie gras (which they undoubtedly will) and the ban is subsequently overturned, it seems likely that this new method will be marketed as a more humane way to produce foie gras, perhaps advertised as being “cage free” or “free range.” As we have seen with so many other farmed animals, this will only incite more human consumption of foie gras, as consumers have been taught to believe that more humane treatment of farm animals translates into healthier animal products for consumption.

All in all, while many people may regard this California ban on foie gras as a victory in the fight for animal welfare, it is hard to ignore possibility that foie gras will sooner or later be back, and it will likely be back with a vengeance.

5 Responses

  1. David,

    Did those who advocated for the new law try to find a way to prevent that loophole?

    Did they try to have foie gras production and sale banned, period, no matter what method is employed?

    If so, why did that attempt fail?

    Do you see this more as a welfarist law, as opposed to a law that abolishes an industry that is by its very nature barbaric?

    If it’s only a temporary improvement in the animals’ welfare, how would you propose going about permanently abolishing the practice and thus the industry?

    As for the idea that foie gras is fine dining — well, it is fine only for those who have closed down their conscience and hardened their heart.

  2. I agree. This is no victory. First, I have to say that foie gras production is arguably no more cruel than routine poultry “production,” beef “production,” pork “production”, etc. Anyone who’s seen factory farms (especially where chicken are raised) and slaughterhouses knows that the way these sentient critters are treated is fully as inhumane as the way foie gras ducks or geese are treated. And, yes, chickens in packed, ammonia filled quarters resort to cannibalism and self mutilation too, but no one gives a crap about that, no one’s talking about a ban on chicken production, although there are some very very lightweight attempts to address certain cruel practices such as battery cages. And there’s always slaughter, which really *cannot* be made less cruel and stay economically viable. The bottom line is that few of these “humane” initiatives question the basic injustice of the meat industry, our economy’s too tied up in it and no one can stand to think about giving up meat. So it seems a little disingenuous to me to treat a ban on foie gras as any kind of victory for animals. Foie gras production accounts for — what — some fraction of a percent of total animals killed in this country per year for food?

    Second, as you note, there are all these loopholes in the law. So the law, which is supposed to be humane, is, in effect, only as humane as the market will allow. Wow what a huge victory for animals. I can only hope the human race never runs into any super intelligent aliens who decide they like the taste of our flesh.

  3. Chef Dan Barber speaks about sustainable foie gras not based on gavache or force feeding

  4. […] Photo source […]

  5. […] a month, and how well this polarizing law will be enforced is questionable, as Elizabeth Rattner previously posted. Still, if Mr. Hollande is that concerned with the gall of the Californians, perhaps he can make […]

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