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Lawsuit Claims Foie Gras Ban Is Unconstitutional

Foie gras terrine at Mezze
Foie gras terrine at Mezze
Anne Fishbein

On July 1, the countdown clock hit zero and California's ban on foie gras went into effect. But, as one might predict, the law barely lasted one full business day before a lawsuit was filed against it. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a complaint filed in federal district court on Monday alleges that the ban, which prohibits the sale of any product that results from force-feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging its liver beyond its "normal size," is vague and unconstitutional.

Three plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, including a New York producer of duck products, a Canadian nonprofit organization that represents the interests of foie gras producers and exporters in Quebec, and Hot's Restaurant Group, which operates Hot's Kitchen in Hermosa Beach and Hot's Cantina in Northridge.

The complaint alleges that the ban is vague -- and thus violates the due process clause of the Constitution -- in that the "statute defines 'force feeding' as a process that causes a bird 'to consume more food than a typical bird of the same species would consume voluntarily.' In practice, the vagueness of this purported standard makes it impossible for anyone to know at what point a particular bird has been fed 'more food'" than the law permits.

And because the law affects what out-of-state producers can and can't sell in California -- namely foie gras, but potentially other duck products as well -- the plaintiffs claim that the law interferes with foreign and interstate commerce and violates the commerce clause of the Constitution.

The attorney for the plaintiffs told the San Francisco Chronicle that he will seek a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the ban until the case is decided. Ultimately, the plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction and a declaratory judgment that the ban is unconstitutional.


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