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Among foodies, there’s been a lot of media buzz, both locally and nationally, about the Cotati-based Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) lawsuit against Napa’s La Toque restaurant for (allegedly) violating the California ban on force-fed foie gras (“Restaurant sued over alleged foie gras ban violations,” March 15).

Missing from the conversation, however, is the reason the California Legislature enacted this historic ban and the importance of enforcing it, which is what ALDF’s lawsuit aims to do.

Our undercover investigator visited La Toque and was illegally served foie gras on multiple occasions. The investigator ordered foie gras with his meal, it was brought to the table, and the investigator was given a bill that came to several hundreds of dollars. Yet La Toque claims its illegal sales of foie gras are “spontaneous gifts.”

Most people don’t pay hundreds of dollars for gifts in commercial establishments, especially for outlawed items. La Toque is trying to exploit the law the same way they exploit the ducks whose diseased livers are served up as a gourmet-priced “delicacy.” La Toque continues to try, but it’s not going to fly.

Any fair-minded person can see La Toque is searching for loopholes to sustain a cruel industry. La Toque’s head chef, Ken Frank, has been an outspoken antagonist to California’s state law.

Meanwhile, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and millions of Californians look to the justice system to ensure law breakers are held accountable. Our legal system isn’t a pick and choose buffet, and La Toque isn’t above the law.

Producers were given six and a half years, before the ban took place last July, to find an alternative to the brutal processes of force-fed foie gras, and they couldn’t do it.

Foie gras is the grotesquely enlarged, diseased liver of a duck or goose. It is produced by forcing a long tube down a bird’s throat several times a day and stuffing him so full of food his liver swells up to eight or more times its natural size — many birds become so heavy their legs can no longer hold them up.

California’s ban on cruelly produced, force-fed foie gras means nothing without law enforcement. Avenues like ALDF’s lawsuit can help bring real teeth to this ban. Public interest and animal protection organizations like ours have to be advocates for the law precisely because of lawbreakers like La Toque.

Our lawsuit is one way to enforce the ban by clarifying the law and closing imaginary loopholes used by opportunistic food corporations. It’s time for California restaurants to follow the law — the people have spoken.

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As a longtime resident of Sonoma County, and a former restaurant owner in Guerneville, I know how important it is for our local residents to be able to count on the assurances that laws provide, particularly regarding food production.

ALDF has had to expend significant resources into this investigation and into informing concerned citizens about the illegal activities of restaurateurs, resources we could have put into other organizational activities.

The ban is intended to remove a cruelly produced diseased food product from the marketplace — and our efforts give effect to a law California passed many years ago. It’s time for California’s interests to be enforced.

Wells is the executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.


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