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It’s No Longer Illegal to Have Foie Gras in California

The catch is that the fatty duck or goose liver must come from out of state and be delivered by a third party

Pan Roasted Foie Gras from Restaurant Marbling cuisine at Causeway Bay. 15JAN16 SCMP/Sam Tsang
Pan-roasted foie gras on a plate
Photo by Sam Tsang/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Foie gras, the fattened liver of duck or goose, is no longer illegal to have in California, as long as the product is comes from an out-of-state seller and is transported by a third party, according to a ruling from a federal judge today, reports the Associated Press.

Update: the ruling determines that, “Of course, once the foie gras reaches California, it cannot be resold within the state,” which seems to imply that restaurants would not be allowed to sell foie gras on their menus, despite earlier reporting that it was allowed. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office is reviewing the ruling.

The luxurious delicacy has had a lengthy history in California, where it was first banned in 2004 at the urging of animal rights activists. In 2015, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson determined that the state law clashed with the federal government’s Poultry Products Inspection Act, ruling in the favor of the plaintiffs, which included Hermosa Beach restaurant Hots Kitchen (which is now closed), and multiple foie gras producers.

Foie gras could then be sold and eaten in California, but not produced in the state. Menus across Los Angeles and the state of California served foie gras, an expensive add-on or ingredient that often appeared in upscale restaurants. However, in 2017, Ninth Circuit judges rejected the the lower court’s ruling and said the state had a right to ban the food based on animal cruelty. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which meant the foie gras ban was indeed upheld and enforced for the past 18 months in California.

On July 14, 2020 U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, who originally ruled in favor of foie gras producers and a local LA restaurant in 2015, again determined that foie gras could be sold in California: “There is no principled way to distinguish between foie gras produced out of state and transported into California by the purchaser and that which is delivered by a third party,” wrote Wilson.

The ruling is a major win for out-of-state foie gras producers, who said they had lost nearly a third of sales due to California’s foie gras ban. Meanwhile, the current coronavirus pandemic has led to closed dining rooms, and only limited takeout and delivery service for restaurants. The situation has resulted in numerous permanent restaurant shutters across Los Angeles (and the state).

A spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States gave this statement as a response to yesterday’s ruling:

HSUS is pleased that the federal court decision unequivocally upheld California’s foie gras law, confirming that it remains illegal to sell foie gras in California—including, explicitly, foie gras sales by restaurants. The ruling also confirms and clarifies what has been true since the law’s inception: that it was never designed to apply to personal possession and consumption of foie gras within California. HSUS expects that this will be the end of the litigation, as the court made clear that if Plaintiffs bring these same failed constitutional claims again, the court may take the extraordinary step of sanctioning Plaintiffs. Thus, today’s decision is actually a reaffirmation that California is well within its authority to keep cruelly produced products out of its marketplace.