In January of 2015 a federal district court invalidated a California state law that sought to ban the sale of foie gras. Specifically, California’s law prohibited the sale of the delicacy if it was produced from forced-fed birds. Birds were being excessively fed in order to fatten their livers; this produced a much more savory dish for luxury diners.
California’s ban was originally issued in 2004. However, it did not go into effect until 2012. In 2015, several duck and geese producers (as well as Hot’s Restaurant Group) got their day in court to challenge what they viewed as an unconstitutional statute. A federal judge, the Hon. Stephen Wilson, of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles agreed with them. He ruled that the state law was preempted by the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act. Recently, the 9th Circuit disagreed.
The Pasadena branch of the 9th Circuit issued a 3-0 decision last Friday which supports the legality of California’s law. The court held that the Poultry Products Inspection Act did not seek to prevent a state’s ability to ban certain poultry products. The court added that California had the right to prohibit a practice that it deemed uncompassionate and cruel. In the end, the court did not find a conflict between the state statute and existing federal law.
Although the 9th Circuit’s decision is being hailed as a victory for state legislators and animal rights activists many in the culinary world are dismayed. Many chefs view the regulation as an excessive restraint on their ability to practice their trade. The expensive delicacy is a favorite of high-end patrons and chefs across the state enjoy preparing the dish.
California’s foie gras supporters are now contemplating taking further legal action. The plaintiffs/appellees may request that the case be heard by a full panel of the 9th Circuit. If the decision is affirmed, the appellees may need to look towards the Supreme Court.