U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled Tuesday in Los Angeles that the sale of foie gras doesn’t violate the law if the seller is located outside of California and the product is brought into the state by a third-party delivery service.
This decision won’t put foie gras on the menus of California restaurants, but it does give consumers access to out of state suppliers. Continued litigation should resolve whether California restaurants can again sell foie gras, said Ken Frank, owner of La Toque in Napa.
The ruling comes more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by farms that raise the engorged geese and ducks for the luxury pâté. That sent the issue back to the lower court.
Since January 2019, New York state and Canadian producers had pursued their case. According to the Associated Press, they argued that they had lost a third of their sales because of the ban.
The Animal Protection and Rescue League, a San Diego-based group that advocated for the ban, has maintained that the force-feeding of the birds is a cruel practice. Attorney Bryan Pease called the decision a “last-ditch effort” by Hudson Valley Foie Gras to get around an earlier Ninth Circuit ruling about the feeding practice. “In the meantime,” he said, “New York City has passed a similar ban, and we hope other cities and states will do so as well.”
The issue of whether foie gras can be produced and/or sold in California has been simmering in courts for years.
California’s ban on the production and sale of foie gras (pronounced fwah grah) originally went into effect July 1, 2012, eight years after SB 1520 (by then-Sen. John Burton) was signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 2004.
The long lead time was intended to give the state’s sole producer, Sonoma Foie Gras, ample time to “modify its business practices.” However, the law also applied to the sale here of foie gras produced outside California.
In 2012, fans of the delicacy were given 100 days’ notice before the prohibition started, and they flocked to foie gras dinners throughout the Bay Area. During the prohibition period afterward, some chefs got around the law, which specifically forbade the sale of foie gras, by giving it away. But they risked demonstrations by animal rights protesters when doing so.
Farmers in Canada and New York and a restaurant then challenged part of the law that banned liver produced out of state from being sold, which led to a resumption of foie gras dishes being served in California restaurants. The ban went back into effect after the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, pending action in the lower court.
La Toque’s Frank hailed Tuesday’s decision, saying, “The Bastille Day ruling was a welcome step forward in restoring the freedom to decide what you want to eat in California. The judge ruled that Californians are free to order foie gras from out of state and have it shipped here to enjoy as they wish.
“With this ruling, foie gras is clearly no longer ‘banned’ in California, which lays bare the stupidity of the law. The next step will be returning foie gras to restaurant menus and retail stores, and we’re working on that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.