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Foie Gras Ban in California Has Gourmet Chefs Up in Arms

By Barbara Munker, dpa, BerlinMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 14, 2012--SAN FRANCISCO -- For the moment, gourmet restaurant Melisse in Santa Monica, California, is still offering its eight course Foie for All menu for 185 dollars. From the hors d'oeuvre to desert, each dish contains the controversial delicacy foie gras.

But that's soon to end when, from July 1, California will become the first state in the US to ban it. Not only will the production and sale of foie gras become illegal, so too will trade in the feathers and other products of geese and ducks that have been force fed.

For animal rights activists, the ban has been a very long time in the making. The decision to take foie gras off menus was made in California in 2004, with former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signing it into law. Farmers and restaurateurs were given time to adapt to the ban or to provide alternative methods of producing foie gras in a humanitarian way.

Foie gras is made by feeding a goose or duck several times a day over the course of many weeks. Grain is forced into the animal's stomach using a long stick or by pressurized air. As a result, their livers grow to an unnaturally large size and to a taste that foie gras fans find delicious.

Banning the delicacy has been a highly controversial issue for gourmets, lawmakers and animal rights activists. Top restaurants like Melisse are trying to attract customers for as long as they can with gourmet menus while, at the same time, foie gras opponents are protesting in front of their doors.

The chef and co-owner of Melisse, Josiah Citrin, is one of more than 100 prominent chefs in California who have spoken out against the ban. They call their initiative the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, or CHEFS for short.

The coalition opposes the ban, but it is in favour of treating animals with "respect and dignity." They have proposed ensuring geese and ducks have enough space to move about and feeding the animals in a way that will not injure them.

Democrat politician John Burton helped draft the ban in 2004 and has shot back using strong words.

He said the chefs should have "duck and geese fat -- or better still, dry oatmeal -- repeatedly forced into their throats." The gourmet chef at Incanto restaurant, Mark Pastore, demanded a public apology for that comment. It's highly likely that the war of words will continue up until July.

There are several top chefs who support the ban.

Wolfgang Puck stopped putting foie gras on his menu in 2007. He now only uses eco-friendly ingredients such as free-range eggs and meat. In 2008, Californians voted in favour of more humane conditions for raising chickens, pregnant pigs and calves. Small cages have been banned from 2015 and shark fins can no longer be sold in California from 2013 onwards.

Force-feeding ducks and geese is illegal in several EU countries where using funnels to pass the grain into the animal's throat is classified as animal abuse. Movement of goods is, however, freely allowed in Europe, so it is still possible to import and sell foie gras.

France is the world's biggest producer, with 20,000 tons of the delicacy coming on the market every year. In 2006, it was placed under special protection in France as part of its "cultural and gastronomic heritage."

Gourmet cooks in California say their customers will complain about the measure. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Traci Des Jardins from the restaurant Jardiniere said there was "a lot of negative reaction" when chefs voluntarily removed foie gras from their menus.

The spokesman for CHEFS, Nathan Ballard, says he's afraid a black market will spring up. Referring to a short-lived ban in Chicago in 2006, he said inventive cooks avoided it by selling croutons for 25 dollars, but the accompanying foie gras was free of charge. Two years later, the ban was overturned.


(c)2012 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)

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