California’s ban on the sale of foie gras can remain in effect while producers of the delicacy made from the livers of force-fed ducks challenge the constitutionality of the law, a federal judge said.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson at a hearing today in Los Angeles denied the request by Canadian and American foie gras producers for an order to halt enforcement of the law that went into effect July 1. Wilson said he would explain his reasons in a written ruling later.
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 within California and bars sales of foie gras produced elsewhere “if it is the result of force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size. 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 want to stop the state from enforcing the measure on the grounds it interferes with interstate and foreign commerce and is too vague.
The statute defines force feeding as using a process that causes a bird “to consume more food than a typical bird of the same species would consume voluntarily,” according to the lawsuit. “In practice, the vagueness of this purported standard makes it impossible for anyone to know at what point a particular bird has been fed more food than the Bird Feeding Law allows,” according to a court filing.
Canadian producers had been selling about $4 million to $5 million of foie gras to wholesalers and distributors in California, who in turn sold it for “tens of millions” to restaurateurs and gourmet stores, said Michael Tenenbaum, a lawyer for the foie gras producers. He questioned whether the law would also apply to sales of down, duck meat and other byproducts of ducks used in foie gras production.
Tenenbaum declined to comment after the ruling.
Brian Pease, an attorney for the Animal Protection and Rights League, said “It’s not a question for the courts to second guess a political branch of government” that enacted the law.
The case is Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec v. Harris, 12-05735, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).