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California Foie Gras Ban to Remain in Force, Judge Says

A California ban on sales of foie gras that went into effect on July 1 will remain in place for now while a lawsuit over the law’s constitutionality proceeds, a federal judge said.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson issued the ruling at a hearing today in federal court in Los Angeles. The foie gras producers fighting the law hadn’t met their burden of showing that they were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims or that they were likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a temporary restraining order, the judge said.

Wilson asked Michael Tenenbaum, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, why his clients hadn’t moved to block the ban a few months before it took effect rather than wait until July 2 to sue.

“Your position on that question is weak,” the judge said. “You haven’t provided a satisfactory explanation why you need a temporary restraining order.”

Wilson set a hearing for Aug. 29 for arguments on a request by the foie gras producers for a preliminary injunction against the ban while the case is pending, at which both sides can more thoroughly present their position.

The plaintiffs, two foie gras producers and a restaurant that until recently served the delicacy, claim they are losing $11,000 a day “in the name of California’s attempt to impose dietary guidelines for ducks far beyond its borders.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger

The ban on foie gras, French for “fat liver,” was signed into law in 2004 by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Enforcement was postponed for almost eight years to let producers find an alternative to force-feeding. No substitute method has come to light.

The law bans force-feeding ducks or geese to make foie gras and forbids selling foie gras produced that way. Violators can be fined as much as $1,000 a day.

The plaintiffs include a Canadian association of producers who supply 100 percent of Canada’s imports of foie gras to the U.S., and Hudson Valley, the largest U.S. producer of foie gras.

They claim the California law violates the U.S. Constitution because, among other reasons, it is “impermissibly vague,” seeks to impose a boycott of “USDA-inspected, lawful, wholesome goods in interstate and foreign commerce,” and seeks to regulate farmers outside of California.

The case is Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec v. Harris, 12-5735, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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