California's foie gras ban draws legal challenge
North America's largest producers of foie gras have joined with a Southern California restaurateur to challenge the state's ban on the duck-liver delicacy.
The first-of-its-kind ban went into effect July 1, and the producers and Hot's Restaurant Group Inc. promptly filed suit Monday in federal court, asking a judge for an injunction against the new law. They argue that the measure, which forbids the in-state sale and production of products derived from force-fed birds, is too vague.
Foie gras is made from geese and ducks who are force-fed through a pipe to plump their livers.
"The Bird Feeding Law does not provide any intelligible measure -- such as weight, volume, or caloric value -- by which those involved in the feeding of the ducks ... may determine at what point a duck has been fed 'more food' than the statute allows," the lawsuit said.
The foie gras producers claim that the ban is so vague that it could apply to other products from ducks who are raised primarily for foie gras, including skins, bones and feathers. They also argue that the new law violates the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause because it affects out-of-state companies.
The Legislature passed the ban in 2004 but delayed implementation for 7 1/2 years to give restaurateurs and Sonoma Foie Gras, the only producer in California, time to adapt. Some of the state's top chefs mounted an unsuccessful campaign earlier this year to persuade lawmakers to repeal the ban and establish stricter feeding standards for ducks.
Violators of the ban now face a potential fine of as much as $1,000 a day.
According to the Orange County Register, some chefs are testing the new law. On Monday, Antoine Price offered foie gras dishes at his San Clemente restaurant, titling the menu "Foie You!"
"They can lock me up if they want," Price told the newspaper. "I don't mind."
--Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: Seared foie gras with wild berry and mocha moose. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times