Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

California Foie Gras Ban To Take Effect July 1

Two months before a fois gras ban goes into effect in California, supporters and opponents are locked in a final battle over the law.

A plate of food, including a slice of foie gras.  The foie gras has a red circle around it with a line through it.

Photo: ilmungo (flickr)

Many chefs agree with animal rights activists that foie gras production methods are inhumane but feel the solution is to reform farming, not ban the food.

On July 1st, a foie gras ban is scheduled to to go into effect in California. The legislation was signed into law eight years ago by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it contained a delay to give farmers time to adjust.

Now forces both for and against the moratorium are locked in a final, eleventh-hour battle to defend the law or have it repealed.

Recipe For An Ugly Duckling

Foie gras is made from the livers of ducks or geese, but not any liver will do.

To produce the desired texture and flavor, birds must be force-fed several times a day. Metal tubes are inserted in the animals’ throats so a mixture of corn and oil can be pumped directly into their stomachs.

Under these conditions livers can grow up to ten times their natural size.

A Miserable Life

Animal rights activists consider California’s foie gras ban to be an important victory for animal welfare.

Force-feeding, they say, often results in severe head and neck injuries.

Overgrown livers also impede the normal functioning of other vital organs, including the lungs and stomach. Even birds that are not caged quickly become so overweight that they are unable to move.

In 1998, the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Welfare on Welfare Aspects of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese concluded that “force feeding, as currently practiced, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds.”

CHEFS Opposed

On the left: a press photo of chef Michael Chiarelli displaying several dishes.  On the right, three foie gras ducks looking unhealthy in small, dirty cages. One of the ducks can't hold its head up.

Photo: michaelchiarello.com / farmsanctuary.org

Chef Michael Chiarello (left), an advocate for sustainable farming, agrees that foie gras farming (right) should be reformed. But the only reason the ban passed, he says, is because foie gras farmers aren't backed by the agribusiness lobby that protects the more egregious crimes of factory farms: "The point is not foie gras. The point is boneless skinless [expletive] chicken breast."

Some of California’s best-known chefs have formed an organization — the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS) — which is geared toward repealing the ban before it goes into effect.

CHEFS acknowledges the animal welfare concerns associated with foie gras production, but argues the solution should be to update the farming and feeding methods rather than to ban foie gras altogether.

At least one farmer, Eduardo Sousa, has managed to raise foie gras geese without force-feeding. When raised in the right conditions, the animals will gorge themselves naturally to prepare for winter when the weather turns cold, producing foie gras-quality livers.

Foie Gras: The Wrong Target?

San Francisco chef Chris Consentino has emerged as the most vocal opponent of the ban.

He argues that the emphasis on foie gras is misguided and will disproportionately harm small farmers. According to Consentino, Animal rights advocates seeking to make a significant difference should be targeting factory farms.

“The minority is telling the majority that we shouldn’t eat something because they feel that we shouldn’t eat it,” he says. “You know what else we shouldn’t eat? Ninety-nine-cent hamburgers that are actually hurting people and spreading salmonella in young children. But is the solution banning hamburgers? No, it’s fixing the system, just like CHEFS is trying to do with foie gras.”

Famed nose-to-tail Chef Michael Chiarello, who is known for his advocacy for sustainable farming, concurs. “I’ve been to every foie gras farm I know in Northern California,” he says. “I’ve also walked into a chicken farm where a million chicks are dead because some idiot mixed the chemical wrong in their feed. A million chicks dead in one fell swoop. The point is not foie gras, the point is boneless skinless [expletive] chicken breast.”

Both the American Veterinary Medical Association’s House of Delegates and the American Association of Avian Pathologists have said that foie gras is not a product of animal cruelty.

California lawmakers have announced that they will not overturn the ban.

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Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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