The Challenges of Banning Foie Gras in California

The production and sale of foie gras have been banned once again in California. The law became enforceable on January 7, but how will it be applied and what are the consequences for the market? We interviewed key players in the sector and those who support the ban.

Tara Gallegos, spokesperson for the California Attorney General’s Office, which is responsible for applying the law: “The law, written into chapter 13.4 of the California Health and Safety Code, forbids the production and sale of any food that is the result of force-feeding a bird such as a goose or a duck. Police officers and state-approved animal control or animal welfare officers have the right to issue a citation to those who do not respect the law. Those found to have broken the law are liable to pay a fine of 1,000 dollars per infraction, and an additional 1,000 dollars for every day the infraction continues.”

Kelsey Eberly, lawyer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund which campaigns for the ban of foie gras: “We’re celebrating the fact that California has taken this historical step to ban such a cruel product. We will make sure that the law is enforced and that restaurants are not flouting it. We’ll be calling on customers to tell us when they see illegal foie gras on the menu and we’ll take action against any new restaurant serving forced-fed foie gras in the future. We resumed the lawsuit we filed in March 2013 against a Napa Valley restaurant called La Toque. [To skirt the law, chef Ken Frank was offering a free slice of foie gras and a glass of Sauternes wine with each tasting menu.] The California Court of Appeal agreed with us that “gifting” foie gras as part of an expansive tasting menu is selling it. The court put our case on hold in 2016, while the foie gras ban’s enforcement was halted. But there’s no reason to keep delaying the case now that foie gras is unquestionably illegal again.”

Benoît Cuchet, director of the French company Rougié in North America, which produces foie gras in the Montreal area for the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican markets: “California represents 20% of our sales in the United States and 10% in North America. This makes it a major market, with the global production equivalent of 50 tons of foie gras that is in danger of disappearing. We will have to reduce our production potential and probably stop working with one or two of our six artisanal producers, which means the loss of some 25 jobs. During the last foie gras ban in California [from July 1, 2012, through January 7, 2015], sales went up with our distributors in Las Vegas, but it was not enough. The increase in sales in neighboring states such as Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon, will not be enough to compensate for the closure of the Californian market. Our lawyer, Michael Tenenbaum, has gone back to see the district court judge to obtain an injonction to temporarily suspend to application of the law.”

Michael Tenenbaum, attorney for the Association of Duck and Goose Farmers of Quebec and the New York-based Hudson Valley Foie Gras company: “The only effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that the case has been returned to the federal district court in California, where it will now move forward to trial on our several constitutional claims, and my clients and I remain confident that we will prevail again.”