United States Federal Courthouse Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.
United States Federal Courthouse Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.

A federal judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday struck down the state’s ban on the importation and sale of foie gras, the delicacy prepared from the force-feeding of ducks and geese, and a Southland restaurateur at the center of the battle vowed it would be back on his menu within a day.

The law banning the sale of foie gras — French for “fat liver” — and its byproducts went into effect in July 2012. A restaurant caught serving the gourmet item in California faced fines up to $1,000.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote that the law was unconstitutional because it interferes with the U.S. Poultry Products Inspections Act, an existing federal law that regulates poultry products and trumps state regulations.

The ban is “a topic impacting gourmands’ stomachs and animal activists’ hearts,” the judge wrote.

A representative of state Attorney General Kamala Harris said the office was reviewing Wilson’s ruling and had no further comment. ]

The state can seek a stay of the decision to keep the law intact while Harris appeals the ruling to the U.S. 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society released a joint statement vowing to appeal.

“The state clearly has the right to ban the sale of the products of animal cruelty, and we expect the 9th Circuit will uphold this law, as it did in the previous round of litigation,” their statement says. “We are asking the California Attorney General to file an immediate appeal.”

Sean Chaney, chef-owner of Hot’s Kitchen in Hermosa Beach — among those fighting the ban — said foie gras “will be back on the menu tomorrow.”

“It’s awesome,” Chaney said. “What a way to start the new year.”

An association of foie gras producers in Canada and New York, along with restaurant owners, challenged the law in Los Angeles federal court, arguing that it was vaguely written and interfered with interstate commerce.

But a Pasadena federal appeals court denied an injunction against enforcement of the law, ruling in August 2013 that opponents had failed to show they were likely to overturn it, and the U.S. Supreme Court in October denied review of the decision without comment.

Wilson previously rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the law was unconstitutional since it apparently regulates the feeding of ducks outside California.

Court papers filed by Hot’s Restaurant Group, along with Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec and New York-based producer Hudson Valley Foie Gras stated that the ban was “unconstitutional, vague and interferes with federal commerce laws.”

The measure bans force-feeding ducks or geese to make foie gras within California and bars sales of foie gras produced elsewhere if it’s made by force- feeding a bird to enlarge its liver beyond normal size.

Animal lovers throughout the state crusaded against force feeding.

Attorney Michael Tenenbaum, who filed the federal civil suit against the state, said his clients alone are losing at least $15,000 each day as a result of the law.

Foie gras is usually produced through a process in which ducks or geese are force-fed corn through tubes inserted in their throats, a practice seen as inhumane by animal rights activists.

City News Service

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