Calif. lawmakers: No repeal of foie gras ban

Force-feeding ducks and geese results in a larger, softer liver, which is then eaten as the delicacy foie gras (AP Photo)Force-feeding ducks and geese results in a larger, softer liver, which is then eaten as the delicacy foie gras (AP Photo)(AP) — California's legislative leaders said Wednesday that they will not help a group of chefs who want to overturn an impending foie gras ban.

About 100 chefs signed a petition Monday asking to keep the duck- and goose-liver delicacy legal. But no lawmaker has offered to take up their cause and sponsor a bill to overturn the 2004 law establishing the ban, which is scheduled to take effect July 1.

"I'm not going to allow an issue like that to preoccupy the Legislature," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told a gathering of reporters.

John Vigna, spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said the speaker does not comment on theoretical bills.

"If they find someone, we'll obviously have the discussion," Vigna said. "If they do find someone to introduce the bill. But I don't know that they're going to be able to do that."

The long-differed ban targets the physical and emotional damage some people say can result from force-feeding ducks and geese. Its author, former president pro tem of the state Senate John Burton, delayed its implementation to give the state's sole producer a chance to find a humane way to engorge the birds' livers

Foie gras is created by the funnel-forced ingestion of large amounts of feed into the duck's esophagus. Eventually the liver grows to more than 10 times its normal size.

The chef's proposal would keep foie gras legal but also mandate a raft of reforms, including hand feeding and cage-free living for the birds.

Nate Ballard, a spokesman for the coalition of chefs, acknowledged that getting a repeal passed in the coming weeks would be a heavy lift.

"Even if the ban does go into effect, we will keep moving forward," he said. "Prohibition has never worked in this country."

Earlier this week, Burton, who is now chairman of the California Democratic Party, expressed disbelief that chefs and foie gras producers had waited so long to take up the fight.

On Wednesday, Ballard responded by saying chefs typically are not political people and have been more focused on keeping their restaurants afloat than watching the legislative calendar. The delicacy is fun for chefs and consumers, he said, and helps California maintain its place as a culinary destination.

The Sacramento-based California Restaurant Association, which lobbies on behalf of restaurant owners, did not return telephone calls and emails requesting comment.

The Legislature is poised to address the state budget deficit, public pension reforms and bills addressing home foreclosures in the coming months.

"We've got a lot of other things to do; we have higher priorities," Steinberg said.