It was in 2004 that then Governor Arnold Shwarzenegger signed changes to California’s Health and Safety Code Section 25981-25984 banning the force feeding of birds for the purpose of enlarging their liver beyond normal size. The law also makes it illegal to sell any product made through force feeding a bird to enlarge the liver beyond normal size. That law is set to take effect July 1, 2012.
Even though the California foie gras industry has had eight years to change their ways, many chefs are making a last ditch effort to get the law repealed. On Monday evening, May 15, 2012, owner and chef of Melisse Restaurant in Santa Monica, Josiah Citrin, hosted a seven course tasting event. With every dish containing foie gras, chefs from around the state made offerings of the French “delicacy.”
Spearheaded by San Francisco’s Golden Gate Restaurant Association, CHEFS (Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards) has started a petition to ask for the repeal of California’s foie gras ban. Its website states CHEFS “…is an organization of California chefs, culinary professionals and supporters of sustainable and humane farming standards. We oppose the ban on foie gras, but support a broader standard for ethical treatment of animals and humane farming practices.” So far about 100 California chefs have signed that petition.
Wayne Pacelle, HSUS President, said “I think their effort will be dead on arrival.” The only way to get the ducks and geese to overeat to the point of actually diseasing their livers – yes, that is what foie gras is: diseased fowl liver — is through force feeding three times per day for three weeks. “Forcing them to eat more than they want is the problem,” said Pacelle. The excess food causes the birds to grow at such an alarming rate they often cannot walk or stand properly and suffer severe pain from having an enlarged, diseased liver.
Amber Coon from APRL (Animal Protection and Rescue League) is not taking the chef’s attempts lightly. “We are very encouraged that the legislature came out very strongly, stating that they have no plans to overturn the ban. However, this is no time to sit back and claim victory,” Coon told me. “Misinformation and outright lies are being spread by chefs that the ducks somehow don’t mind, or even enjoy the force-feeding process,” she added.
Activists have demonstrated outside restaurants that have been holding fundraisers to get the July 1st ban repealed in an attempt to counter misinformation spread by the chefs. Places like Melisse in Santa Monica, Cowboy Star in San Diego and The Haven Gastropup in Orange, CA.
Former California State Senator John Burton, who spearheaded the legislation in 2004, is having a difficult time understanding the chef’s current attempts. “They’ve had all this time to figure it out and come up with a more humane way,” he said. “I’d like to sit all 100 of them down and have duck and goose fat – better yet, dry oatmeal- shoved down their throats over and over and over again.”
The question before us is how is it possible to create humane foie gras? How can a duck or goose liver be intentionally diseased through force feeding to create a liver 10 times the size of a normal one in a humane manner? “Humane” foie gras sounds like an oxymoron to me. What do you think?
Photo of ducks used in making foie gras used with permission of APRL