More than a decade ago, in 2004, the California Legislature banned the production and sale in California of foie gras, which is created by the inhumane process of force-feeding ducks and geese to fatten their livers. Producers and restaurateurs have been fighting that law ever since. Efforts to strike it down on the grounds that it interfered with interstate commerce were rebuffed by a federal district judge and then an appellate court panel of the 9th Circuit. The law went into effect in 2012.
But now a federal judge has sided with a group of foie gras producers, farmers and restaurateurs and enjoined enforcement of the portion of the regulation outlawing the sale of foie gras, finding that it violates a federal law governing the sale and distribution of poultry. The law, known as the Poultry Products Inspection Act, regulates the distribution and sale of poultry and forbids states from imposing regulations on “labeling, packaging, or ingredient requirements” that differ from the federal regulations and might interfere with poultry products in commerce. California’s foie gras ban, Judge Stephen V. Wilson said on Wednesday, violates the poultry act because a force-fed bird’s liver is an “ingredient.”
Well, sure, an enlarged liver may be the main ingredient in foie gras. But how the liver got enlarged is the result of the bird’s handling. And that, we believe, is something the state of California has the right to regulate.
State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris argued — rightly — that the California law on foie gras regulates a process, not an ingredient. The law was intended to end the cruel practice of stuffing tubes down the birds’ gullets and feeding them until their livers swelled to ten times the normal size. Only a few farmers in the world raise birds for foie gras without force-feeding them. So, yes, the state law disadvantages foie gras producers who want to sell to California restaurateurs and suppliers, but it disadvantages them all equally.
Producers and restaurateurs had nearly eight years to come to terms with this law — one of a growing number of farm animal anti-cruelty laws on the books of California and other states. The attorney general should appeal this ruling and defend the state’s right to enact humane laws.
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