Is Foie Gras Once Again Permitted On Menus In California? Nope, Not At All

July 17, 2020

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times declared that "Foie Gras is back on the menu in California" following a federal court ruling this week on the subject, but is it really true? No, it is not at all true, there is no restaurant in the state that can legally serve the controversial delicacy.

"The July 14, 2020 Associated Press article proclaiming 'foie gras back on the menu in California' is FALSE," wrote San Diego activist and local environmental attorney Bryan Pease, who is primarily responsible for the foie gras ban in California. "The AP needs to live up to its motto of 'separating fact from fiction,' instead of just printing industry spin. [Furthermore, t]he 'giving it away' tactic has already been litigated and shot down by the California Supreme Court in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. LT Napa Partners. As for sourcing it out of state, under this ruling restaurants could supposedly do that (although I think the judge got it wrong and will be overturned yet again), but even then they could only consume it themselves, not serve it or sell it."

Foie gras is made by force feeding ducks for weeks to enlarge their liver. 
California Senate Bill 1520 was signed into law by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 and originally went into effect July 1, 2012. The law prohibits the "force feeding of a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size" as well as the sale of any products that are a result of this illegal process, such as foie gras. This law ultimately outlawed the traditional method of producing foie gras in California. On January 7, 2015, a U.S. District Court held that the portion of California's law banning the sale of foie gras within the state was preempted by the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act, which stopped the California Attorney General from enforcing the ban for a period of time. That decision was overturned on appeal on September 15, 2017, but the decision was stayed in December 2017 to permit the plaintiffs to petition the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied in January 2019, resulting in the ban on foie gras going back into effect statewide. This week, a federal judge ruled the health code doesn’t prevent the rich dish from being brought in from out of state, although that does not by any way mean it "is back on the menu in California."

Last year, New York City prohibited restaurants and grocery stores from selling foie gras starting in 2022. Chicago also banned the sale in 2006, but the ordinance was repealed two years later. This year, California’s ban on the cultivation, importation and sale of the fattened liver of a duck or goose was again challenged in court by out-of-state foie gras producers who claimed they lost nearly one-third of their sales because of the prohibition.

This past Tuesday, July 14, U.S. District Court Central Division of California Judge Stephen V. Wilson upheld the statewide prohibition but decided that out-of-state sales of foie gras that are delivered inside California was legal under California Senate Bill 1520, so long as the seller is located outside California, the foie gras is not present within California at the time of sale, the transaction is processed outside California, payment is received and processed outside of California, and the foie gras is given to the purchaser or a third-party delivery service outside of California and the shipping company or purchaser thereafter transports the product to the recipient, even if the recipient is in California. While consumers can purchase foie gras under the above conditions, this does not mean restaurants may sell the controversial delicacy.

"Of course, once the foie gras reaches California, it cannot be resold within the state, even if the transaction processes 'out of state' via an explicit agreement or otherwise," wrote U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson in his order dated July 14, 2020.

So, Bryan Pease is correct, the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times misreported. Foie gras cannot be sold nor can it be given away at California restaurants. Eateries may still be cited up to $1,000 for each violation of the statewide foie gras ban, and up to $1,000 for each day the violation continues.

In 2019, Bryan Pease's California non-profit Animal Protection and Rescue League filed a lawsuit against San Diego's popular Little Italy steakhouse Born and Raised for violating the foie gras ban. The lawsuit ultimately settled but terms and conditions are confidential.