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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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California Foie Gras Ban Deemed Unconstitutional

(CN) - A California law banning the sale of foie gras is unconstitutional because it interferes with a federal law regulating poultry products, a federal judge ruled.

Foie gras - fatty duck or goose liver - is prized by gourmands for its rich flavor. But animal rights activists have long maintained the market for the delicacy drives poultry producers to cruelly force-feed the fowl. During the process called gavage, a duck or goose is fed through a tube stuck down its esophagus for about two weeks.

California outlawed the sale of force-fed poultry products in 2004, and the state regulation went into effect on July 1, 2012. A day later, plaintiffs including the Hot's Restaurant Group in California, Hudson Valley Foie Gras (a poultry producer in New York), and the Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d'Oies du Quebec, sued to invalidate the law.

They argued that states can't interfere with federally approved poultry products because they're already covered by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.

In September 2012, a federal judge denied the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction, holding that they'd failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their arguments.

The 9th Circuit affirmed that ruling the following year, and also dismissed claims against the state and Gov. Jerry Brown. That left Attorney General Kamala Harris as the sole remaining defendant.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson acknowledged that lawmakers had gone some lengths to try to ensure the state regulation did not conflict with federal law, but he concluded they simply could not do so.

"Thus, California cannot regulate foie gras products' ingredients by creatively phrasing its law in terms of the manner in which those ingredients were produced,' he wrote. "The Court therefore permanently enjoins and restrains Defendant and her agents .... from enforcing California Health and Safety Code §25982 against Plaintiffs' USDA-approved poultry products containing foie gras."

In the wake of Wilson's ruling, several animal rights groups, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society, have vowed to appeal. However, a spokesperson for the state attorney general said the office is reviewing the ruling and has yet to determine how it will proceed.

Judge Wilson's ruling is not expected to have any bearing on California's new egg law, which requires more space for laying hens. The law - Proposition 2 - was overwhelmingly approved by California voters in 2008, but egg farmers have complained the measure dramatically increased their costs, and warn consumers will ultimately pay higher prices for their product.

There is one crucial difference between the new egg law and the now moribund foie gras ban - eggs aren't covered by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.

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