Governor Signs Bill That Could Terminate Foie Gras in California

New law prohibits force-feeding birds, but gives producers until 2012 to find another way to continue making the delicacy.
Oct 2, 2004

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill on Sept. 29 that bans the force-feeding of ducks and geese for the production of foie gras and outlaws the sale of foie gras made from force-fed birds.

Don't fret that the delicacy will disappear from the state any time soon. SB 1520, which imposes a fine of $1,000 a day on violators, doesn't go into effect until 2012, buying time for the state's lone foie gras producer and for restaurants and retailers who sell foie gras.

The bill, introduced last February by state Senator John Burton (D-SF), was supported by a coalition of animal protection groups, including the Davis-based Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), Los Angeles Lawyers for Animals and Viva USA. The groups believe that the practice of force-feeding birds to enlarge their livers is inhumane.

Does this mean the end of foie gras? Not according to a statement released by the governor's office, which clarifies that the bill bans a production practice, not the product itself. The law "provides seven-and-a-half years for agricultural husbandry practices to evolve and perfect a humane way for a duck to consume grain to increase the size of its liver through natural processes," the statement said.

Guillermo Gonzalez, owner of Sonoma Foie Gras, the state's only foie gras producer, said he is happy the bill passed with these conditions. "We asked the governor to sign the bill so that we have seven years to demonstrate that foie gras production is safe and proper. We will go on with our business, with the continued support of scientists and the agriculture community," Gonzalez said in a statement.

Meanwhile, restaurateurs don't plan to pull foie gras from their menus. Ken Frank, chef-owner of La Toque restaurant in Napa Valley, said the passage of the bill means "absolutely nothing" to his business.

"I would anticipate it will continue to spur people's interest in eating foie gras," said Frank, whose Rutherford restaurant specializes in the delicacy. "The quality of foie gras we've been getting from Guillermo [Gonzalez] in the last year has been spectacular."

Frank, who is known for his support of sustainable and humane farming practices, said Gonzalez is a caring farmer and has standards for treatment that are above those of the poultry industry in general.

While AVAR was pleased that the governor signed the bill, it's not stopping with foie gras, said spokeswoman Pam Runquist. "We hope to tackle farm and other animal issues soon."

AVAR and 16 other animal-protection groups, Runquist said, have recently formed a political action group called the California Animal Association, with the goal of sponsoring new animal-related legislation.

Another piece of foie gras legislation is pending in New York state, home to the country's only other producer, Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Bills S5153 and A01821 would "make it unlawful to force-feed a bird by hand or machine, for the purpose of fatty enlargement of the bird's liver." It does not, however, ban the sale of foie gras that was made elsewhere.

Gene Bauston -- founder and spokesman for Farm Sanctuary, the nation's largest farm animal rescue and protection organization -- believes the California law may have an impact in New York.

"I think it sets a very important precedent," Bauston said. "I think legislators in New York will revisit this issue, and I think we're likely to see similar measures introduced in other states."

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Read more news about foie gras:

  • Feb. 24, 2004
    California, New York Legislators Propose Foie Gras Ban

  • Sept. 4, 2003
    Foie Gras Flap Prompts San Francisco Chefs to Reexamine Menus
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