Animal Writes
From 7 March 2004 Issue

Foie Gras Flap Spreads - Bill Would Ban Duck Dish
By John M. Hubbell, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

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 day.

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 stopped."

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 tea."


For more information on this issue, and what you can do, see the following website:

Foie Gras Ban 

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