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Foie gras ban to begin; chefs fight back

April 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many of California's top restaurants serve foie gras because they say their customers demand it. But starting July 1, they are forbidden to serve the enlarged liver if it's the result of force-feeding the bird to grow the organ about 10 times beyond the normal size.

Chef Roland Passot of San Francisco's La Folie says the government shouldn't be telling people what they can't eat and that the process to make foie gras is not cruel to animals.

"It is a force feed, but the duck doesn't have any gag reflex. So when you put a tube into the throat, it's like swallowing a fish in the ocean," Passot said.

More than 100 of California's well-known chefs, like Tyler Florence and French Laundry's Thomas Keller, have joined a petition to keep foie gras on California menus by proposing new and humane rules surrounding the treatment of the birds. They delivered it to Assembly Speaker John Perez, hoping he'd help repeal the law.

Former Senate President John Burton spearheaded the original ban in 2004, which gave the industry more than seven years to comply. The foie gras ban was inspired by video showing how animals are fed through a tube up to three times a day for 21 days, abnormally fattening the liver.

"They just are a bunch of selfish people who want to continue profiting, if you will, on the suffering of helpless geese and ducks," Burton said.

Animal rights groups say the industry should have used the time to develop a better way to make foie gras.

"Force feeding of animals is fundamentally inhumane, and that is the practice that is still used by the foie gras industry," said Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society of the United States.

Many chefs question why this is such a priority when so many other things are wrong with the state.

"We cannot balance the budget. We don't have enough policemen. We don't have enough firemen. We don't have an education system," Passot said.

Los Angeles restaurateur Wolfgang Puck favors the ban. He said in a letter to other chefs that the science is so clear, countries in Europe, as well as Israel, has banned force-feeding for foie gras.


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