Foie Gras Officially Banned in California

The appeal by producers and restaurant owners has been rejected by the Supreme Court, and the law banning the production and sale of foie gras in California came into effect on January 7.
© D’Artagnan

While the appeal was still underway, foie gras remained legal in California. And the procedure filed in March 2018 by the Quebec Association of Duck and Goose Farmers, the Hudson Valley Foie Gras company, and the Hot’s restaurant chain in California succeeded in stalling the ban.

However, the Supreme Court has refused the appeal and put an end to the war waged between producers, restaurant owners and animal rights activists since 2004. Some 14 years ago the Californian senate approved a bill outlawing the “force feeding of a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size” as well as the sale of foie gras across the state. Put forward by a coalition of animal rights activists and defended by the then-governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the law became enforceable in 2012 before being challenged in 2015.

Despite the challenge, the law has once again become enforceable on January 7, 2019, with the approval of the highest judicial authority in the United States. The Quebec agri-food lobby, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, the French government and 11 American states including Missouri, Texas, and West Virginia submitted a petition in favor of foie gras, but in vain.

A 1,000-dollar Fine for Bootleggers

Those who break the new law are now liable to pay a fine of 1,000 dollars. French-American chef Nick Ronan, who operates two restaurants in San Francisco, is not worried by the recent measures and will continue serving his customers foie gras. “I’ll just play with the law,” he says. “I’ll try to read between the lines to keep serving my dishes legally.” His bistro, The Pawn Shop, is set to open on January 14 and will feature pan-fried foie gras on grilled bread with quince paste.

The chef sources his foie gras from Petaluma, north of San Francisco, and from the Hudson Valley in New York State. But these exchanges could soon be a thing of the past. According to Californian law, the production and consumption, but also the transport of foie gras is illegal. Amazon was fined 100,000 dollars last December for failing to respect the ban when it was in effect. The company has since stopped delivering foie gras to California, and has stated it will penalize its third-party sellers who break the law.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision will have little impact on producers in France. While France sells one third of its foie gras abroad, it does not export to the United States. The main effect of the ban is that it tarnishes the image of foie gras and its reputation as a luxury product. By way of support for Californian producers and restaurant owners, the French government wrote in the petition to the Supreme Court that the law was “an assault against tradition.” After all, the product has been a part of “French gastronomic and cultural heritage” since 2006.

The Foie Gras Conflict in 6 Dates:

September 29, 2004: The California Senate bans the force-feeding of birds and the sale of foie gras across the state.
July 1, 2012: The law S.B. 1520 banning the production and sale of foie gras in California becomes enforceable.
January 7, 2015: The ban on foie gras is seen as anti-constitutional and an infringement of trade legislation, and is repealed by a federal judge in Los Angeles.
September 15, 2017: Three appeal judges reverse this decision. The production of foie gras is outlawed in California but consumption of foie gras from elsewhere remains legal.
March 9, 2018: Foie gras producers from Quebec and New York State, along with a Californian restaurant group, petition the Supreme Court, which stalls the application of the law.
January 7, 2019: The petition is rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the law banning the production and sale of foie gras in California becomes enforceable.