Foie gras has been produced since the early Egyptians discovered how savory the liver becomes when a goose is overfed. Since those early times foie has been elevated to another level, but not without a certain level of controversy. A California law enacted in 2004 which becomes effective July 1, 2012, prohibits the “force feeding of a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size” as well as the sale of products that are a result of this process.
This isn’t the first such ban on foie in the United States. In April of 2006 a city-wide ban on foie was enacted in Chicago the prohibited the sale and leveed fines up to $500. A great level of civil disobedience broke out in the city not too unlike Prohibition when booze flowed freely in the meaty city. During the time of the ban in Chicago it was reported that 46,000 pounds of foie was sold and the ban was eventually ruled “silly” by Mayor Richard Daley and was overturned.
Groups still speak out about the upcoming ban including animal activists from Mercy For Animals. Spokesperson Eddie Garza responded to craveDFW’s inquiry by stating, “Mercy For Animals commends California law makers for banning the production and sale of foie gras. Forcing a metal pipe down a bird’s throat and pumping his stomach full of grains several times a day in order to induce a diseased, fatty liver is blatant animal abuse.”
The process of overfeeding, or gavage, is what is most controversial about foie gras. People like Garza who are vegans will never approve of consuming foie, but are more concerned about the cruelty aspect of processing the bird.
We spoke with Rick Bishop, the national marketing director of Hudson Valley Foie Gras earlier this week and he stated that he works for the first such farm to hire a humane auditor who looks out for the best interest of the animals by measuring stress and safety. The farm is cage free and the ducks are hand fed. Bishop also mentions that the farm is open to anyone who cares to visit the operation.
“We approached the state of California looking to put a bill through that would elevate the level of care for the animals, offering a higher standard that the state would require for foie gras production,” said Bishop.
Bishop maintains that the law makes a mockery of those wishing to farm the animals in a safe and cruel-free manner.
Garza insists there is no safe or cruelty-free method to produce foie gras.
There is now talk of civil disobedience much like the chefs did in Chicago. The local police and animal control departments in San Francisco claim they do not plan to enforce or issue the $1000 mandatory fines for selling foie produced outside California.
“I’m not aware of any plans for us to enforce it,” said Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a San Francisco Police Department spokesman.
Restaurants are looking for ways around the law such as offering a “corkage fee” or upcharge for serving foie. Most restaurants will simply build the cost of foie into other dishes and offer the foie supplement seemingly at no charge.
Bishop claims that Hudson Valley experienced record sales in the past year in California which represents 25% of the company’s business.
Other states will be watching the California ban closely as they weigh their own legislation.