Starting today in California, there is a ban on the production and sale of engorged livers of ducks and geese that have been force-fed, which is known as foie gras. Yet this restriction will likely go unenforced, and the legislation implementing the ban is so full of holes that there is little doubt diners will still be able to find the item in restaurants after the law takes effect.
In the vast majority of cases, the production of foie gras involves shoving a tube down the birds’ throats and overfeeding them several times a day so that their livers become fatty, a method called gavage. Some say the method swells livers to 10 times their normal size, making the bird in effect diseased. Producers of what some diners consider a delicacy say that the method of fattening the birds is not cruel because the throats and digestive tracts of these birds are not comparable to those of humans. They say the tube down the birds’ throats does not hurt them.
But state lawmakers came down on the side of protecting the waterfowl in 2004 when they passed the law against the production and sale of foie gras. The legislation’s implementation was scheduled for years later to allow the food industry to adjust.
The ban that goes into place today could penalize chefs who continue to sell foie gras with a $1,000 citation. But, unfortunately, that will probably never happen.
The foie gras ban is just one of the moves by California to help raise animals bred for human consumption in humane conditions. In 2008, state voters also thought that chickens in factory egg farms should have enough space to move about, and they approved Proposition 2, which mandated cages large enough for the hens to turn around and spread their wings.
Yet unlike the factory egg-laying measure, which has strict guidelines and enforcement, the foie gras ban is a restriction that lacks teeth.
First off, policing of the ban falls to numerous agencies, including police and animal welfare departments, none of which will likely have the resources in tight economic conditions to dedicate to chasing down what people are putting on their plates in restaurants. The San Francisco Police Department told Bloomberg News that there are no plans in place to enforce the ban within city limits.
Secondly, the letter of the law bans the production and sale of foie gras produced by force-feeding birds. But there is already talk from chefs about how they will give away foie gras for free when diners order something else on the menu — thereby avoiding the actual sale of it. Of course this violates the spirit of the law, but little can be done when people exploit the loopholes in poorly worded legislation. The San Francisco Department of Animal Welfare and Control told Bloomberg News it has no place to issue citations to chefs giving away foie gras.
Although the foie gras ban will be openly defied in many cases, it is not a failure. California is leading the way in humane animal practices, and this legislation will stop the majority of force-feeding of waterfowl within the state. The fact that others will continue to eat foie gras produced elsewhere shows that this topic needs to be revisited, or that larger nationwide legislation should be introduced.