California Foie Gras Ban Remains: A Decade-Long Battle Continues

California Foie Gras Ban Remains: A Decade-Long Battle Continues
By Nina Singh-Hudson - Published on May 22, 2023.

With the Supreme Court's decision (announced on May 22, 2023) not to take up the challenge brought by Canadian duck and goose farmers against California's foie gras ban, the long-standing controversy surrounding this dish continues. The dish remains the "most maligned and misunderstood food in the world", according to CNN.

The battle over foie gras in the United States started back in 2003 when two animal rights activist groups sued a California foie gras farm. This initiated a heated string of petitions, lawsuits, and appeals that stretched across over a decade. As reported by Eater, the movement gained significant momentum in 2004 when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the California S.B. 1520 into law, prohibiting force-fed foie gras.

The law not only bars the sale of foie gras in California but also outlaws the production process. According to CNN, California's Attorney General Rob Bonta argued that the California legislature considered evidence that force-feeding ducks and geese causes extreme suffering to the animals.

In this context, the Supreme Court's decision may come as no surprise to some. However, it has not put to rest the debate surrounding the dish.

As with any heated debate, opinions on foie gras production vary greatly. Back in 2005, renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter spoke out against foie gras and removed it from his restaurant's menu. He told the Chicago Tribune, "What I have seen, it's just inappropriate. There are too many great things to eat out there that I don't believe that any animal would have to go through that for our benefit."

On the other hand, some experts argue that foie gras production is not as cruel as it is portrayed. In 2005, the American Veterinary Medical Association declined to take a position against foie gras production techniques following a visit to Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Journalist Lawrence Downes shared his experience visiting the same farm: “I saw no pain or panic in Mr. Yanay’s ducks, no quacking or frenzied flapping in the cool, dimly lighted open pens where a young woman with a gavage funnel did her work."

While foie gras sales remain illegal in California, the infamous dish continues to attract attention and controversy from both supporters and detractors, some of whom are well-known chefs. Bad blood among these culinary giants only adds fuel to the fire, as chefs like David Chang and Anthony Bourdain have harshly criticized Charlie Trotter's decision to stop serving foie gras at his restaurant.

Despite the ban, foie gras has not vanished from the culinary scene. Some chefs skirt the law by serving non-gavage foie gras, which is produced without force-feeding, or by offering the dish for free to avoid legal repercussions. This workaround might present another point of contention in the ongoing debate.

As various cases and petitions continue to make their way through the legal system, the Supreme Court's most recent decision not to take up the foie gras case perpetuates a story with over a decade of twists and turns. And with the dish's legality remaining a contentious issue, it is unlikely that the foie gras battle will come to a swift conclusion anytime soon.