No foie gras for you! Supreme Court lets California ban stand

Duck foie gras with passion fruit sauce -- a preparation that will not be seen on California restaurant menus.
(Jerome Levine / Chicago Tribune)
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It looks like California diners will have to go liver-less for a while longer. Tuesday morning the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal that would have overturned the state law forbidding the production and sale of foie gras.

Proponents of the fatty duck and goose liver had argued that the ban, which was passed in 2004 and went into effect in 2012, violated federal interstate commerce laws, interfering with the sale of a product across state lines. That argument had been rejected by several lower courts and Tuesday the Supreme Court decided to let those rulings stand.

The ban had been challenged by the Hot’s Restaurant Group in California (which includes Hot’s Cantina in Northridge, Four Daughters in Manhattan Beach and Hot’s Kitchen in Hermosa Beach); Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a producer in New York; and a group of Canadian foie gras farmers.


California’s food production laws have been hot topics, as they are seen as possible precursors for further animal welfare regulation. In June, 13 states -- all of them leading producers of meat or poultry -- filed a supporting brief in favor of overturning the foie gras ban. Also this year, California’s law requiring larger cages for egg-laying hens was appealed by six states.

There is still one technical argument pending in the foie gras lawsuit -- that the ban illegally preempts the federal Poultry Products Inspection Acts -- but that is given a slim chance of succeeding now.

In a brief defending the law, California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris argued that the state did not exceed its jurisdiction. “State laws prohibiting the sale of products based on concerns about animal welfare, or simply on a social consensus concerning what is appropriate, are not unusual,” she wrote, citing various states’ laws prohibiting the sale of horse meat.

Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for the Humane Society of the United States, which filed a brief supporting the ban, said in a statement: “The Supreme Court’s decision means that the people of California have the right to prohibit the sale of certain food items, solely because they are the product of animal cruelty. The holding in this case — that states have the right to cleanse their markets of cruel products — is a precedent of enormous consequence for millions of animals.”

Former state Sen. John Burton, who wrote the law and ensured its enactment, said: “This effort was a long, hard fight. But it was worth fighting and worth winning.”

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