Sake-marinated foie gras, salmon roe, milk bread, pickled Asian pear at Tsubaki in Echo Park
Sake-marinated foie gras, salmon roe, milk bread, pickled Asian pear at Tsubaki in Echo Park
Anne Fishbein

Here We Go Again With Foie Gras

The sale of foie gras — the fattened livers of ducks and geese — has once again been declared illegal in the state of California. The initial ban went into effect in 2012, was overturned in 2015 and is in place again on the order of Pasadena's Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Foie gras is considered a delicacy, partly due to how expensive it is. The cost is high due to the work and time involved in artificially inflating the birds' livers, which is done through a process called gavage, wherein a tube is inserted down the animal's throat to feed it faster. For reference, ducks and geese don't have gag reflexes, and they breathe through their tongues, not their throats. The process does sound unpleasant, but it isn't the torture it would be for humans.

Prior to 2012 California had one foie gras producer, Sonoma Foie Gras. The ban shut down the farm, though the company still exists as a distributor. That company's owner, Junny Gonzalez, also works for Bella Bella Gourmet Products, which represents a group of New York farmers raising heirloom breeds of chickens, ducks, quail, rabbits and other small livestock.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has long been leading the fight to ban foie gras. One might think that they've focused this much energy on foie gras in California specifically because there was only one producer of it in the state, a small, family-run farm, making the chance of the industry having any effect on politicians quite small. In contrast, the California Pork Producers Association, which represents dozens of ranchers and processors, is part of the National Pork Producers Council, which represents 67,000 pork producers in 43 states and has an office in Washington, D.C.

Taking on big pork and its thousands of reported animal-cruelty violations would certainly be the more daunting task. But a victory against it would mean so much more than keeping one small California farm out of business.

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