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California's Statewide Ban On Foie Gras Is Getting Revived

An appeals court overturned a 2015 decision that struck down the ban.

09/16/2017 12:01 EDT

A statewide ban on selling foie gras may soon be back on in California.

Foie gras, which means “fat liver” in French, is a luxury food item typically produced by force-feeding ducks or geese with a 10-12 inch feeding tube, which fattens the bird’s liver beyond its natural range.

Regis Duvignau / Reuters
A French farmer holds a funnel filled with corn to force-feed a duck using the traditional method by French producers at a poultry farm in Mayelis, southwestern France, in 2006.

Animal advocates criticize the process as cruel, and in 2004, California passed a law that prohibited the selling birds that had been force fed to enlarge their livers, Reuters reports.

At the time, the state’s legislative analyst wrote that the production of foie gras was “so hard on the birds that they would die from the pathological damage it inflicts if they weren’t slaughtered first,” according to the Los Angeles Times. 

The law took effect in 2012, prompting celebrations from animal rights activists but backlash from some chefs who said it infringed on their rights to serve what they want.

However, in 2015, a Los Angeles U.S. District judge struck down the ban on the sale of foie gras, ruling it was an “ingredient,” and that the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture sole jurisdiction over the ingredients that are allowed in poultry products. A ban on producing force-fed foie gras remains within the state.

But as of Friday, it looks like foie gras could soon be off California’s menus once again. A Pasadena-based appeals court overturned the 2015 ruling. Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote that the law was not banning an ingredient, but rather a method of production.

Sacramento Bee via Getty Images
Foie gras at a restaurant in Sacramento, California, in 2012.

“It is not the livers that are force-fed, it is the birds,” she wrote, according to the Sacramento Bee. “The difference between foie gras produced with force-fed birds and foie gras produced with non-force-fed birds is not one of ingredient. Rather, the difference is in the treatment of the birds while alive.”

Nguyen also pointed out that more than a dozen countries — including Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom — have some type of ban on forced feeding or foie gras, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Restaurants are not mandated to remove foie gras from menus immediately, though. Challengers of the ruling still have time to appeal it, and the ban won’t be officially reinstated until the appeals process is over, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And that process could take months.

“As it stands right now, nothing changes,” Cathy Kennedy, director of pro-foie gras group Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, told the Chronicle. “We are absolutely going to appeal.”

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