But haute cuisine restaurateurs say proposal goes too far
Sacramento -- A proposal by a powerful Bay Area lawmaker
could make California the first state to ban the production and sale of
foie gras -- a move that would wipe the controversial delicacy from menus
throughout this food-savvy state.
State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San
Francisco, is expected to introduce a bill this week [early February] that
would virtually prohibit foie gras by essentially putting the Western
United States' sole producer out of business while denying chefs ready
access to the hyper-fattened duck liver.
The idea is being viewed with alarm by high-end
restaurants in California and across the nation that serve foie gras, a
dish enjoyed by many who fancy haute cuisine.
Burton's bill seeks to block the sale of foie gras
produced by the controversial "speed-feeding" method in which grain is
streamed through a pipe inserted down the throat of a duck or goose for
weeks at a time toward the end of their lives. The method, which rapidly
enlarges the bird's liver, is standard industry practice but considered
abhorrent by animal rights activists, who maintain that it causes the
birds to suffer.
"You don't need to be cramming food down Donald Duck's
throat to have foie gras," Burton said in an interview, calling the
procedure "an inhumane way to be dealing with our fine feathered friends."
$1,000 a day fine
If Burton's bill becomes law, a California producer
employing the technique would be subject to a $1,000 fine per bird, per
The legislation -- which Burton predicts will pass easily
in the Senate but faces an uncertain fate in the Assembly -- is seen by
backers as a major step in reaching a long-sought goal of eliminating
domestic foie gras production altogether. New York is the only other state
in which foie gras is made at large farms, and a bill to ban its
manufacture has been introduced there.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office had no immediate
comment on the bill Monday.
Several European countries have banned foie gras
production, but France, where the food originated and remains popular,
exports some to the United States and other countries.
"It's a product that's produced with such cruelty and such
suffering that an outright ban would surely help alleviate that
suffering," said Cem Akin, a spokesman for People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals, based in Norfolk, Va.
Attack on free market
Opponents said Monday that they view the bill not as a
potential boost to animal rights but as an attack on free market values.
"This is the first time a societal issue with respect to
what's morally right ... would govern what people get to put on their
plates," said Robert Julian, a lawyer with the San Francisco law firm
Winston & Strawn, which represents California's only foie gras producer,
Sonoma Foie Gras. He accused Burton of "doing the bidding of these people
who have done criminally conspiratorial stuff."
Burton's bill follows a spate of vandalism surrounding the
issue in Northern California. In August, Sonoma Saveurs, a specialty shop
in the city's plaza supplied by Sonoma Foie Gras, was damaged extensively,
while homes of the shop's partners, Didier Jaubert and Laurent Manrique,
were defaced a month before. Manrique was also left with a chilling
videotape that showed his family being unknowingly observed in their home,
accompanied by a letter stating flatly that they were being watched.
Threatening letters thereafter warned Jaubert and Manrique to "stop or be
Manrique, who is also the executive chef of Aqua, a highly
rated restaurant in San Francisco's Financial District, said he has only
seen the demand for foie gras increase since he began cooking in the
United States several years ago. The force-feeding method is the only way
to make good foie gras, he and other chefs said.
'A chef, not a politician'
"Every night in San Francisco, a lot of people ask for
it," he said. "I'm a chef, not a politician. If the law says no more foie
gras, I'm not the one who is going to suffer -- the customer is going to
suffer." To not have foie gras in a French restaurant, he said, is "like
if you don't have a green salad on the menu."
Already, chefs and restaurateurs are fighting the proposed
ban. On Friday, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association dispatched a
four-page alert to many Bay Area restaurants declaring foie gras "under
siege" and supplied a form letter to be sent to Burton.
"It's a freedom of choice thing," said James Ormsby,
executive chef of the Plumpjack restaurant group in San Francisco, who
signed the letter and occasionally serves foie gras. "If you want it, you
should be able to eat it."
News of the proposed ban exasperated restaurant owners
from Los Angeles to New York on Monday.
'Talk of the town'
"You're kidding me," said Nikos Mavreas, owner of Aix, a
French restaurant on New York's Upper West Side. The summer vandalism at
Sonoma Saveurs "became the talk of the town here," Mavreas said, and "just
the mention of foie gras has spiked our sales. Our chef would never
consider taking off the foie gras."
At L'Orangerie, a fixture on the West Hollywood culinary
scene for 26 years, owner Gerard Serry met news of Burton's bill wearily.
"You can go very far with it," he said of its philosophical argument. "Why
then would you sell caviar? Why do we kill lamb?"
Burton, who sponsored similar bills on foie gras while in
Congress decades ago to no avail, said he is introducing the legislation
in California because "I think it's the right thing to do."
"I've eaten foie gras," he added. "It ain't my cup of
For more information on this issue, and what you can do, see the
Foie Gras Ban
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