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Or they would if they could, because the October 14, 2014 Supreme Court ruling means that California’s ban of the sale of foie gras, a delicacy that is produced by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese so as to enlarge their livers beyond normal size, remains in place. Animal rights activists have long condemned the practice of force-feeding as being cruel and painful. In 2004 the California legislature took their point and passed a ban that went into effect in 2012.
The fight was led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the law was authored and shepherded by former California state legislator John Burton, who described the drive as a “long, hard fight.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision means that the people of California have the right to prohibit the sale of certain food items, solely because they are the product of animal cruelty,” Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement.Food Fight
Opposition to the ban from foie gras (which means fatty liver in French) producers and restaurateurs was fast and furious. A challenge (Association des Eleveur v. Harris, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1313) was formally mounted in the United States District Court of Central California by the Canadian foie gras producers, Association Des Eleveurs de Canards et D’Oies Du Quebec, New York-based Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and California-based HOT’S Restaurant Group. Thirteen meat and poultry producing states weighed in with a supporting brief in favor of overturning the foie gras ban. The appeal was also supported by almost 100 star chefs.
Informally, the plaintiffs argued that the law did not take into account new, more humane methods of foie gras production. But their primary claim rested on the concept that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from interfering with interstate commerce.
In a brief defending the law, California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued that the state did not exceed its jurisdiction in implementing the ban. “State laws prohibiting the sale of products based on concerns about animal welfare, or simply on a social consensus concerning what is appropriate, are not unusual,” she wrote, citing various states’ laws prohibiting the sale of horse meat.
Ultimately, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the producers’ line of reasoning. Relatively confident that the conservative high court would be open to the argument that the ban violated interstate commerce rules and curtailed free trade, the foie gras contingent took their case to the highest court in the land. However, on October 14th, the high court declined to hear the appeal thus leaving intact an August 2013 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the law.No Foie Gras For You
The reaction of the food community to the ruling has been every bit as emotional as that of animal rights activists. The ban, they say, will crush culinary creativity by discouraging chefs from taking risks. It is yet another instance of political correctness and odious government overreach. One chef even alleged that the ban was a violation of free speech. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain called foie gras “one of the most delicious things on earth and one of the ten most important flavors in gastronomy,” urging one and all to lavish their dinner guests with a “delicious, unctuous terrine of foie gras.” Those who object to it solely based on the nature of its production are quite simply “twisted souls.”
Rumors circulated throughout the foodie community that there would soon be specially trained patrols roaming the state to find and prosecute foie gras scofflaws. In response, some partisans vowed, there would be an underground movement to open foie gras speakeasies and renegade pop-up restaurants where the contraband could be served.
So why all the frenzied reaction to the loss of something that – really – is a very small part of the foodie food-chain?
There’s a lot more at stake in the war over foie gras than its particular culinary virtuosity.
California’s law is seen by the country’s giant food producers – the so-called factory farms – as an ominous portent of animal welfare regulation to come.
The state has already passed a law requiring larger cages for egg-laying hens in 2010. That law was appealed by six states who argued that California should not be allowed to have standards different from those of other states. They further alleged that the infrastructure changes required to meet those standards would cost out-of-state farmers hundreds of millions of dollars effectively limiting if not preventing outright their ability to sell their products.
The egg-producers weren’t alone in voicing their alarm. Dom Nikoim with the Missouri Pork Association claims that the law is “a clear violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause,” and warns that it likely won’t stop with eggs.“Logically, the next step is, we should extend our authority on how you produce pork to other states, as well. Then is it dairy, is it beef, is it corn? Go down the list.”
For now, geese, ducks and egg-laying hens have won the day, but the anti-animal welfare regulation lobby is large and powerful. And you can be sure that they – and their representatives in Congress – have only just begun to fight.
Women exposed to high levels of traffic pollution during the second trimester of pregnancy are at higher risk of giving birth to a child with weak lungs, researchers said yesterday.
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Whether it involves Ebola, climate change or childhood vaccines, opinions have somehow become counterbalancing facts to scientific conclusions, giving the perception that the mutterings of the uninformed are worth hearing. They are, in most cases, not.
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One year after a pipeline rupture flooded a wheat field in northwestern North Dakota with more than 20,000 barrels of crude, Tesoro Corp. is still working around the clock cleaning up the oil spill -- one of the largest to happen onshore in U.S. history.