Federal Judge Jokingly Strikes Down State Foie Gras Ban that “Runs Afoul” of U.S. Law

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Striking a blow for the freedom to eat the bloated livers of ducks and geese force-fed grain through tubes, a federal judge invalidated California’s 2012 ban of foie gras.

Diners, chefs and lovers of freedom everywhere reportedly rejoiced at the word Wednesday that U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson had tossed the law because it interfered with federal laws, like the Poultry Products Inspections Acts (PPIA). “The issue boils down to one question: whether a sales ban on products containing a constituent that was produced in a particular manner is an “ingredient requirement” under PPIA,” the judge wrote.

He thought not, despite the state “creatively phrasing its law” to appear so. Judge Wilson struck a distinctive tone in his ruling’s first paragraph when he cast the disagreement as between “gourmands’ stomaches and animal-rights activists’ hearts.” His job was to determine if the state had run “afoul” of federal law.  

Former Humane Society official Jennifer Fearing told KPCC the judge’s logic was off. “The ruling of this court relies on some absurd notion that force-feeding is an ingredient in the production of foie gras, which of course is absurd on its face—but also absurd because we know that foie gras can be produced without it.”

California’s law, the only one like it in the nation, banned sales of the gourmet delicacy and the practice of force-feeding birds with a tube. Possession is legal. Israel, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and other countries have similar laws. The law was passed in 2004 with an eight-year delay to allow producers and sellers to adjust.

It looked bad for foie gras lovers last October when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision rejecting arguments that the law was vague and violated the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause by interfering with interstate commerce.  

“The Supreme Court’s decision means that the people of California have the right to prohibit the sale of certain food items, solely because they are the product of animal cruelty,” Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement in October.  

He was wrong, and so were folks talking to the Los Angeles Times, which wrote, “There is still one technical argument pending in the foie gras lawsuit—that the ban illegally preempts the federal Poultry Products Inspection Acts—but that is given a slim chance of succeeding now.”

That technical argument succeeded in convincing a lower-court judge. Attorney General Kamala Harris can appeal.

–Ken Broder   


To Learn More:

California Foie Gras Ban Struck Down (by Howard Mintz, San Jose Mercury News)

Judge Strikes Down California Foie Gras Ban (by Kurtis Alexander and Paolo Lucchesi, San Francisco Chronicle)

California Foie Gras Ban Struck Down by Federal Judge (KPCC)

Supreme Court Leaves California Foie Gras Ban Intact (by Lawrence Hurley, Reuters)

Association Des Eleveurs de Canards et D’Oies du Quebec et al v. Kamala D. Harris (U.S. District Court Central District of California)

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