New Jersey chefs and gastronomes could soon be bidding adieu to foie gras, the fattened goose and duck livers that have been a staple of fine dining menus in the United States since first being imported from France in the early 1980s.
This week, state assemblyman Michael Panter (D) put the finishing touches on a bill that will seek to outlaw the production, sale and distribution of foie gras. The new bill, as yet unnamed, represents an extension of legislation introduced June 1, 2006, bill A-3230. That bill, sponsored by assemblywoman Joan Voss (D), seeks to outlaw "forcible feeding of ducks, geese and other poultry for the production of foie gras." But there are no farms in New Jersey that currently produce foie gras, so the bill, if passed and signed into law, would only prohibit the introduction of foie gras production into the state. However, specialty food purveyor D'Artagnan, one of the largest suppliers of fresh foie gras and duck breasts to New York restaurants, is based in Newark, N.J., and would be affected by Panter's bill seeking a ban on sale and distribution.
"In looking at the bill in recent weeks, he felt that he wanted to go further," said Panter's spokeswoman Kerri Danskin. "He wanted to really make sure that New Jersey is not supporting what he considers to be animal cruelty." Panter was a cosponsor of Voss' original bill, which was referred to the state's Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Danskin added that Panter feels it "is inappropriate to be profiting" from the production and sale of foie gras.
Foie gras is produced through a process known as gavage, in which geese or ducks are force-fed a corn-based meal for two to four weeks before slaughter. The process results in an enlarged and extremely fatty liver whose unctuous, buttery texture makes it a highly prized commodity in the gourmet market.
Whether or not foie-gras production--currently regulated and certified in the United States by the USDA--constitutes animal cruelty is a subject of intense debate among animal-rights advocates, the hospitality and agricultural industries, politicians and the public. In April 2006, the City Council of Chicago voted to ban the sale of foie gras, but within a month of the law going into effect, Mayor Richard Daley pushed to have it repealed. In 2004, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law that, effective in 2012, will criminalize the production and sale of foie gras in the state.
As Panter attempts to criminalize foie gras in New Jersey, chefs, restaurateurs and retailers are gearing up for a fight. "We're of the mind that 'enough is enough,'" said Deborah Dowdell, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association. "To disallow the sale and enjoyment of products that are produced under clean and ethical standards is just ridiculous."
Ariane Daguin, owner of D'Artagnan, said that foie gras sales represent 30 percent of her total annual revenue, which last year was $45 million. Although Daguin does not believe that a ban would put her completely out of business, it would certainly make things difficult for her and the people who work for her. "At the very least, it means moving [the company] out of New Jersey, or laying off a percentage of employees," said Daguin. D'Artagnan currently employs 120 people.Chef Nicholas Harary, owner of Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, N.J., said he doesn't believe that Panter's bill will make it past the state's Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, but added, "The big issue is, can the government say you can eat this, or you can't eat that? If the answer is yes, then I think a much bigger and much smarter person than myself needs to get involved."
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