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Calif.'s Foie Gras Ban Struck Down by Federal Judge

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on January 08, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal judge has struck down California's ban on foie gras on the grounds that it conflicts with federal poultry regulations.

California's ban on the controversial French delicacy was first signed into law in 2004, taking effect in 2012. But on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson sided with a group of restaurants, foie gras producers, and farmers who argued that the California law was unconstitutional, reports the Los Angeles Times.

What led to the ruling, and what does it mean for foie gras fans in California?

Previous Constitutional Challenge Rejected

Foie gras is produced by force-feeding ducks and geese through a tube inserted into the animals' esophagi. The practice of producing foie gras has long been criticized as inhumane by animal lovers, and in 2012 California amended its Health and Safety Code to outlaw not only the production of foie gras in California, but also the sale of foie gras in the state.

The section of the California Health and Safety Code outlawing the sale of foie gras was challenged by producers in 2013 as being unconstitutionally vague. This argument was rejected by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court also rejected the producers' argument that the law violated the Dormant Commerce Clause of the Constitution by unfairly discriminating against out-of-state producers, finding that the law applied to all companies, regardless of location.

Federal Pre-emption

The latest challenge to the law argued that California's ban of foie gras was pre-empted by federal law. When state laws conflict with federal law, the state law may be pre-empted, or overruled, by the federal law. In this case, foie gras supporters pointed to the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act, which the group claimed pre-empted California's ban. The judge agreed, finding that the PPIA expressly pre-empts the section of the California Health and Safety Code prohibiting the sale of foie gras.

The judge ordered that California authorities are permanently enjoined from enforcing the ban. California's attorney general may opt to appeal the ruling, but in the meantime, California restaurants have already begun returning foie gras to their menus, reports the Los Angeles Times..

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