LOS ANGELES (CN) – Goose liver lovers claim in court that the California law that effectively banned sales of foie gras is unconstitutionally vague, as it does not define just how fat you can stuff a goose.
The Association des Eleveurs De Canards et D’Oies du Quebec and two U.S. companies, including a restaurant group, sued California, its Attorney General Kamala Harris and Gov. Jerry Brown in Federal Court.
They claim that the state’s bar on foie gras, which took effect this week, should be struck down for vagueness under the Constitution’s due process clause of the U.S.
Foie gras is made from the fattened liver of a duck or goose, usually by force-feeding corn to the bird. The fatty liver is believed to taste better than the liver of birds that are not force-fed.
Animal lovers crusaded against force feeding, and persuaded the Legislature to ban it. California’s bird feeding law, enacted through the Health and Safety Code, imposes a $1,000 per day penalty on anyone who force-feeds birds to enlarge their livers, effectively banning the delicacy in the state.
The law defines force-feeding as causing birds to “‘consume more food than a typical bird of the same species would consume voluntarily,'” according to the complaint.
But the plaintiffs say it “is impossible for anyone to know at what point a particular bird had been fed ‘more food’ than the bird feeding law allows,'” and that the law does not offer guidelines based on weight, volume or any other measure.
They also attack the law for imposing “crushingly strict liability” on distributors and restaurants, through the penalties.
“If this law remains in effect and is deemed to apply to plaintiffs, then California will become the only place in the world where the sale of, for example, foie gras – and every other product that is ‘the result of’ ducks raised for their livers, including duck breast, duck fat, and even duck feathers – would be banned within its borders,” the complaint states.
“As a result, the bird feeding law destroys both the retail and the wholesale markets for the sale of duck products in California and places a substantial burden on interstate and foreign commerce. It does this without advancing any local interest (let alone a legitimate one) of protecting the citizens of California – or even of protecting any California duck.”
The lead plaintiff, whose name translates as the Association of Duck and Bird Breeders of Quebec, is joined by HVFG dba Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a New York duck producer that describes itself as “the largest producer of foie gras and other products from ducks raised for foie gras in the United States,” and by Hot’s Restaurant Group, of California, which says it has stopped selling the food for fear of prosecution.
The plaintiffs are represented by Michael Tenenbaum of Santa Monica. They seek an injunction to prevent violation of the Fifth and 14th Amendments and the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
California’s Inc. is also a party to the lawsuit and says it has been forced to stop selling the delicacy over fears that it will be prosecuted.
Neither the state nor HVFG immediately responded to requests for comment.