La Toque Restaurant Sued For Serving Foie Gras

FRIDAY - MARCH 15, 2013 - NAPA, CA - La Toque Restaurant, in the Westin Verasa, is being sued for violating a state law which bans the sale of foie gras. J.L. Sousa/Register

J.L. Sousa/Register

The national Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed suit in Napa County Superior Court against Napa’s La Toque restaurant, claiming the upscale eatery in the Westin Verasa Hotel is violating California’s ban on selling and distributing foie gras.

According to news release issued by the organization, Animal League Defense Fund “undercover investigations reveal that despite the state ban, La Toque routinely sells foie gras products derived from force-feeding birds to enlarge the birds’ liver (‘foie gras’),” in violation of California health and safety and business and professions codes.

As outlined in the legal document, “these practices undermine the integrity of the market by allowing La Toque to attract diners with its outlawed products.”

Ken Frank, executive chef and partner in the La Toque restaurant and a vocal opponent of the ban, is also named as a defendant.

The lawsuit alleges that La Toque “aims to circumvent the law by calling its actual sales of foie gras ‘gifts.’ As a result, ALDF has been required to expend valuable resources investigating the defendant’s unlawful acts.”

Frank said Friday the lawsuit “is further harassment by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to get me to stop advocating for foie gras. The law attempts to ban the sale and production of foie gras — I do neither.”

Sued last year over the same issue, Frank said the Animal Protection Rescue League “didn’t get very far.” He noted that “activists” supporting the foie gras ban had asked the Napa Police Department to investigate Frank’s operation because he randomly gives foie gras to La Toque diners, accompanied by a glass of Sauternes, on a daily basis.

“And I don’t charge for either,” he added. “Foie gras is not on the menu ... you can’t call up and offer me a $100 bill to include foie gras with your dinner. It’s provided on a spontaneous basis.

“I serve it every day on principle because I believe the foie gras I serve comes from ducks that are treated very well.”

The duck liver Frank gives away comes from New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras, “a farm that has put into practice a very impressive set of animal husbandry protocols. They are an open book ... they let the press come (on site) with cameras ... they have video feeds to make sure (employees) are doing everything right. I’m proud to serve their product.”

In its suit, Animal Legal Defense Fund objects to the feeding of ducks and geese that results in a liver “forcefully enlarged up to more than eight times its normal size. It results from a handler forcing a long tube down a young bird’s throat and pumping an unnatural amount of nutritionally deficient food directly into the bird’s stomach.”

“Restaurants like La Toque, who arrogantly and knowingly violate the law, cause the suffering of hundreds of thousands of birds,” stated Stephen Wells, ALDF’s executive director. “These lawbreakers will be held accountable by the courts. Our lawsuit protects California’s interest in removing a cruelly-produced product from the marketplace.”

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California’s ban on the production and sale of foie gras was enacted in 2004 and went into effect on July 1, 2012. “The industry was given more than seven years to create a product not produced by force-feeding but failed to do so,” a news release from ALDF maintains.

Frank pointed out he is a member of CHEFS, the Coalition for Humane Ethical Farming Standards, a large group of well-known chefs who’d like to “see California overturn the ban and set standards making it possible to produce foie gras (in California) with a high level of animal husbandry practices.”

“Chefs have consistently encouraged better practices — when I started in this business there was no such thing as free range, let alone organic standards. Chefs have been leaders in doing things better.

“There are a lot of chickens in Arkansas who’d liked to be treated as well as the ducks at Hudson Valley.”

A nonprofit organization, Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 with the mission of protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system.

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