Foie Gras: Crying Foul Over Fowl Liver Ban

California became the first state to ban foie gras leaving diners crying foul over liver fowl.


Foie gras soon will be a forbidden delicacy in California thanks to the state bill passed to control how food passes through duck bills.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill in 2004 that will change the way ducks and geese that are farmed for their precious fatty livers.

When the bill becomes law on July 1, foie gras, a delicacy tracing back thousands of years to Roman times, will be outlawed in California. Supporters of the ban say force-feeding ducks and geese is inhumane and must be stopped.

Local restaurants might feel the effects. One of the few foie gras farms in the country, Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras, will go out of business at the end of June.

But that’s not the reason I am writing about foie gras this week.

I intend to enjoy foie gras at local restaurants such as and in Bellevue, and in Woodinville and in Kirkland, among other restaurants. 

My issue is with the irony of proponents of a foie gras ban and their ignorance and arrogance on the matter.

I am calling foul on their absolute condemnation of fowl liver.

Veterinarians fall on both sides of the argument. Some veterinarians say feeding ducks for the purpose of harvesting foie gras is not harmful, and is in fact humane. Some veterinarians go as far as to contend that ducks and geese farmed for foie gras lead less stressful lives than wild fowl. On the other hand, not all veterinarians agree. I am no clinician, so I will withhold judgment.

Traditionally liberal animal rights activists in traditionally liberal California lobbied for the ban. John Burton, a Democratic state senator at the time and current Chairman of the California Democratic Party, sponsored the bill. (In the interest of fairness, a Republican Governor, Schwarzenegger, signed the bill into law.)

The irony, perhaps hypocrisy, is that liberals used the same fear-mongering rhetoric tactics that many liberals often accuse conservatives of using, preying on voter and consumer ignorance.

California’s ban on foie gras is as draconian as enforcement on illicit drugs. The absolute nature of the ban is McCarthyist in style. Like drugs, what if outlawing foie gras creates a black market for the precious liver? The potential for animal abuse grows exponentially, after the market is no longer monitored.

Banning foie gras strikes at one of the most fundamentally precious freedoms in America: the freedom to choose how to make a living. The ban will affect small businesses. There are only a handful of foie gras farms in the country, all small businesses. Most restaurants serving foie gras are also small businesses.

It is in the best interest of foie gras producers to handle ducks and geese humanely. Cows in Kobe, Japan, are massaged, fed beer and exposed to classical music to produce superior product. Similarly, ducks and geese grown humanely and happy will produce superior livers.

Celebrity chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain likes to say, “A happy animal equals good quality foie gras.” He adds, “An unhappy, stressed out animal equals foie gras that neither me nor anybody I know is buying.”

Ducks and geese are not humans and do not have human processes. Gorging is also a natural process for ducks and geese. Ducks and geese gorge themselves in the wild to store fat in their livers for energy during migration.

Another difference is that ducks and humans don’t digest food the same way. Humans would gag at a tube in the throat. Ducks do not have a gag reflex, stomach or throat, thus, delivering food down a tube is not the same as shoving a tube down a humans throat. Further, ducks have a calcified esophagus which is also expandable and pliable. They can swallow fish whole.

Many, but not all, proponents of the foie gras ban are vegetarians or vegans. I will not listen to advice from vegetarians about animal products just like I won’t seek marriage advice from my thrice divorced neighbor. Just sayin’.

Sophie Gayot, French food critic and publisher of the eponymous restaurant, hotel and travel guide Gayot, is more poignant.

“If you don’t want foie gras don’t eat it but don’t force me to not be able to eat it. It’s a free country,” she said.


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Annie Archer June 14, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Have any of you eaten fois gras? Are the conditions the ducks and geese are raised under any different than those at factory pig or chicken farms, or cattle feedlots?
Jeanne Gustafson June 14, 2012 at 10:40 PM
I love fois gras, but you can also make faux gras if the idea bothers you :-)
PeterP June 15, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Fois gras production involves force feeding the geese using a mechanical tube inserted into their throats. I'm always a little leery when writers extol our right to act irresponsibly in the name of "freedom" - by his logic we should also have the right to enjoy dolphin burgers and baby seal purses.
Jeanne Gustafson June 15, 2012 at 01:13 AM
I would suggest, in the interest of playing devil's advocate, that on the flip side, that consumers put their money where their mouths are. When I was a teenager, I worked at a certain fast food chain that sold primarily chicken products. One time, a manager told me she would never eat chicken after seeing a video of how they are raised/harvested at domestic chicken farms. It made me wonder how she could reconcile her described values with working at a major buyer of those chickens. Should we outlaw chicken farms? Since foie gras is such a small market share, compared with many other products we consume apparently without much attention on humane conditions (what about breeding turkeys for excessively large breasts so they can't breed naturally, for example? http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2010-11-24-turkeytalk24_ST_N.htm), it seems an odd one for such outcry. Maybe we should make the Thanksgiving turkey illegal unless it's organic and free-range, as well. However, if consumers simply chose organic turkeys naturally bred, the market would likely follow suit.
Bob Martinek June 15, 2012 at 02:05 PM
If one eats commercial meat of any kind then one should shut up on this subject. There is no such thing as humane treatment in a commercial meat facility, nor environmental consideration, other than mandated. Fois Gras, no matter how you spell or say it is delicious, so are my cigars, which are becoming outlawed, so are natural gas powered vehicles which are being ostracized. So is outdoor burning on a controlled basis. Man, it is really hard to be a democrat these days!


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