California slouches towards ban on foie gras

May 16, 2012

By Joseph Perkins

Josiah Citrin, owner and chef at Melisse Santa Monica, hosted a special seven-course tasting last night at his Michelin award-winning restaurant. Each dish was prepared by celebrated chefs from around the state using foie gras as an ingredient.

The purpose of the culinary event was to call attention to a pending state law, scheduled to take effect July 1, which would ban the sale or use of the delicacy — made from duck or goose liver –throughout California.

“This is low hanging fruit,” said Chef Citrin. It’s “easy to go after the foie gras.”

Indeed, animal rights activists insist that the method used to produce foie gras, French for “fat liver,” is inhumane.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Pets claims that its secret investigation of Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, California’s last producer of the gourmet food item, found ducks “crammed a into filthy, feces ridden shed” as well as “barrels full of dead ducks who had choked to death or whose organs had ruptured during the traumatic forced-feeding process.”

So disturbed were PETA’s investigators that they decided to “rescue” 15 ducks.

Citrin says that he and other chefs endeavor to ensure that the food they serve in their restaurants is produced as humanely as possible.

“All the ingredients that I try to use, I really work hard to find humanely-raised animals by farmers who really care about it,” he said.

And so do other chefs around the state, he said, including those who participated in last night’s tasting at Melisse. They are members of  an advocacy group, the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS), which opposes the pending ban on foie gras.

Rather than outlaw foie gras, CHEFS argued, in a petition it recently delivered to Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, the state should regulate its production.

That would include regular monitoring by animal-welfare authorities, raising geese and ducks in cage-free settings, hand-feeding birds by methods that don’t restrict breathing and limits on the fattening birds.

CHEF’s proposal has been summarily rejected by PETA and other animal-rights groups who insist on nothing short of an outright ban on foie gras. They note that the ban was approved by the Legislature in 2004, but that lawmakers gave Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, one of the nation’s largest producers of the delicacy, until this year to comply.

Opponents of the looming ban argue that it’s not just about foie gras, but about the very real prospect that a ban on one food over which special interest groups raise objections will lead to similar bans on other foods.

They note that some activist group or another has raised issues about the method used in production of not only foie gras, but practically every other food — meat as well as vegetable — that may be found on California restaurant menus.

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