On Tuesday, U.S. Central District of California Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that foie gras, French for “fat liver” of goose or duck, can once again be sold in California, overturning an eight year ban on the luxury food.
The food is unique in California due to it’s long legal history and influence on other bans of food. Foie gras is seen as cruel by some Californians including animal welfare and animal rights groups, over the process of forcefully feeding a goose so that its liver is enlarged. The outrage led to the passing of SB 1520 in 2004, which banned both foie gras from being served and made in California. When the law began in 2012, many suppliers in California were hit hard, as well as many restaurants and out-of-state suppliers, the latter of which saw profits fall by a third.
While Judge Wilson overturned the case in 2015 due to the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act prohibiting states from imposing “ingredient requirements,” the 9th Circuit Appeals Court soon overturned the lower court’s decision, noting that California had a right to stop it on grounds of animal cruelty.
In 2019, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving the foie gras ban to stand for 18 months.
But in Tuesday’s ruling, the court found that since there was no way to distinguish foie gras brought into California by the producer, and brought in by a third party, California would have to allow foie gras from out of California as long as a third party brought it in.
“There is no principled way to distinguish between foie gras produced out of state and transported into California by the purchaser and that which is delivered by a third party,” noted Judge Wilson in his decision.
“Although popularized in France, foie gras actually has been around since the Ancient Egyptians learned that birds could be fattened by force-feeding,” The Spruce Eats explains.
The return of foie gras was celebrated by many food producers and restaurant owners.
“It was always a small part of the menu,” said Los Angeles restaurant owner and chef Manny Kahn in an interview with the California Globe. “But it always sold well and gave a nice kick to the bottomline.
“We’re all in lockdown again right now, but now we can highlight to takeout customers that we have it back, and when we return to restaurant service, we’ll be seeing customers order it as well. It won’t turn us around or anything by itself, but think of it as another tugboat turning a ship around. It will help us out.”
Producers also noted a hope in more exports.
“We’re struggling right now,” noted Minnesota farmer Regina Olafsson to the Globe. “We send off foie gras all over the US and Canada. But Canada is tricky right now, and we’re expecting a hit in sales in 2022 when New York bans it.
“California wasn’t really a third of our business before the ban. It was more, like, 10 or 15%. But now that we’re allowed again, we expect to see business climb again, even with limited opportunities there due too restaurants being part of the state closing down.”
“People out there now get the chance to have it again, and we get a little bit of extra money during this time. I think it’s great.”
The California Attorney General’s office is currently reviewing the ruling and could attempt to get the ruling overturned in the near future through a higher court.
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