As California goes, so goes the nation some say. In 2004, California became the first state in the country to ban the sale and production of foie gras from force-fed ducks and geese. The law goes into effect on Sunday, July 1.
Foie gras is the fattened liver of ducks and geese who are force-fed through a pipe shoved down their throats. The force-feeding takes place twice a day for about two weeks until the animals are on the verge of organ rupture. It’s a controversial item celebrated by foodies and deplored by animal protectionists for its inherent cruelty.
While California might be the first U.S. state to ban the practice, it’s not the first locality by far. Laws have been passed in more than a dozen other countries to outlaw foie gras production, including Israel, which was formerly the world’s fourth-largest foie gras producing country. It banned foie gras production on the grounds that it violated the country’s pre-existing animal cruelty statute.
California’s law came with a seven-and-a-half year phase-out period during which foie gras producers could have worked to find an alternate production method to force-feeding. At the time the state’s sole foie gras producer, Guillermo Gonzalez who runs Sonoma Foie Gras, lobbied in support of the ban, saying, “I have the moral stature to accept that if within the seven-and-a-half years established by S.B. 1520, science and government don’t arrive to the conclusion that the methods used in our foie gras production are acceptable … I will be ready to quit.”
No one has found a humane magic bullet to mass produce foie gras that doesn’t involve force-feeding the animals. Yet a handful of chefs and Gonzalez are manufacturing an eleventh hour crisis to try to get the bill overturned. In an effort to mislead consumers about the production of foie gras, they are trying to create standards which would essentially codify what they’re already doing. For example, requiring that the birds are not confined in cages (they’re not caged in California to begin with) and that the birds are hand-fed. The latter conjures images of a friendly farmer lovingly holding his hand out to let a duck gobble feed from his palm. In reality, it would simply mean that workers would use their hands to individually shove a pipe down the birds’ throats—something they already do.
In a state where we’re facing an economic crisis and many other important issues, it’s sad to see the legislative system, and the media for that matter, being tied up by a few chefs’ petty desire to be able to eat and sell a product that few can afford and that so clearly is cruel and inhumane to produce. For the ducks and geese in California and those of us who’ve been waiting for this day for seven and a half years, July 1 can’t get here soon enough. And may many states follow.