Farmers Sue Over NYC's Impending Foie Gras Ban
New York is scheduled to become the latest city in the U.S. to ban foie gras from its restaurants later this year. Two Hudson Valley duck farmers who claim to produce "virtually all of the foie gras" in the U.S., however, have other ideas.
If you need a refresher, foie gras is a pricey mousse delicacy that comes from the fattened livers of ducks and geese. Its buttery and rich flavor is beloved by gourmands, but it is also controversial because the process used to create it involves force-feeding the birds using a funnel known as a gavage. Animal-rights groups, among others, argue that this process is inhumane.
In 2019, the New York City Council agreed with the opponents and voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the city's restaurants from selling foie gras starting this November.
Two big Hudson Valley producers, however, recently filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the ban. Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle Farm say the ban would be a devastating economic hit for them and could force them out of business if the law goes into effect.
A Legal Overstep?
The farmers say that gavage is not cruel, arguing that it basically capitalizes on the birds' instinct to gorge themselves before migrating. Their central argument, however, focuses on whether the city has the power to order a ban. They contend that the city is overstepping its legal authority "by projecting its regulations and policymaking far beyond its municipal boundaries." They also argue that the ban conflicts with various federal and state laws allowing the sale of foie gras.
They appear to have a valid argument and can point to a conclusion in their favor by the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets. Their complaint mentions this assessment, made two years ago, when the agency said the ban would "directly and unreasonably restrict" the plaintiffs' farming operations "in violation of state law."
At this point, it's important to mention that New York City would not be the first city to ban the sale of foie gras in restaurants. Chicago was the first city to ban foie gras, in 2006, and things did not turn out well for the Windy City, which withstood criticism for appearing to be meddlesome busybodies. Restaurateurs pressured the city council to lift the ban two years later when it became tired of seeing their city mocked. The late TV food personality Anthony Bourdain, for instance, said the ban made Chicago look like "some stupid cow town."
Times Have Changed
Could the same fate await New York?
It's hard to say.
Times have changed since Chicago ended their ban in 2008. California banned foie gras in 2012 and, despite numerous legal challenges, the ban remains in effect. More than a dozen European countries now ban the production of foie gras, though most allow importation.
Still, there have also been victories for foie gras supporters. On May 9, for instance, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that while California's ban on the sale of foie gras in that state may continue, residents may now import it. In February, the European Parliament appeared to take an abrupt about-face from its position favoring an outright ban on gavage, now concluding it's OK if it is "based on farming procedures that respect animal welfare criteria."
New York's chefs, meanwhile, are optimistic that the forthcoming ban will not happen. "We're working on a new menu and we're planning to have foie gras on the menu, as we always have," said Marco Moreira, executive chef and owner of French restaurant Tocqueville. "We're not slowing down any time for sure."
Memories of 'Super-Sizing'
In part, they're banking that the public — and the courts — won't like it when the government makes decisions for them.
It's happened before, like in Chicago.
Also, remember then-NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg's plan to ban "super-size" sodas back in 2012? If you do, you might also remember that it didn't last long. In 2014, state appellate court judge Eugene F, Pigott Jr. drove the final nail into that coffin when he said the city's Board of Health "exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority" in enacting the proposal.
With foie gras, could history be repeating itself?
- No More Fois Gras in New York City (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Food Companies Face Heightened Scrutiny Over Labels (FindLaw's Courtside)
- Can Food Grown Without Soil Be 'Organic'? (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
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Foie gras is a delicacy that gourmands will shell out serious money to consume. Critics, however, say the process used to create the food from duck and goose livers is inhumane. New York City aims to ban foie gras from its restaurants. Is that a good idea?
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