Chefs make last-ditch effort to avoid foie gras ban

More than 100 of California’s most prominent chefs – including a slew from here in the Bay Area – are fighting a state law set to take effect July 1 that would ban foie gras, asking that lawmakers instead enact new, strict laws regulating its production.

foie grasFoie gras (French for “fat liver”) is the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened to produce a rich, buttery delicate flavor prized by gourmets. But the traditional method of producing it involves force-feeding the bird with corn, though it can also be produced with more natural feeding methods. The Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS) has created a charter calling for laws requiring the latter rather than the total ban that’s about to take effect.

“We want to create a humane market, not a black market,” said Rob Black of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a member of the coalition. “Instead of a ban, chefs are urging lawmakers to pass new, strict regulations that will require humane and ethical production of foie gras and serve as an example to the rest of the world.”

“The ban would lead to the widespread production and sale of contraband foie gras,” he added. “Black-market foie gras would be dangerous to animal welfare, because smugglers and bootleggers willing to risk criminal prosecution are a far cry from farmers trained in humane and ethical production techniques.”

Former State Senator John Burton, now chairman of the California Democratic Party, authored the 2004 law implementing the ban, and isn’t thrilled with the chefs’ challenge. “I’d like to sit all 100 of them down and have duck and goose fat – better yet, dry oatmeal – shoved down their throats over and over and over again,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The CHEFS charter calls for each farm to follow a set of specific humane protocols and submit to regular inspections by independently certified animal welfare experts to ensure compliance. Farmers would have to use industry optimum equipment to feed the ducks using methods that don’t harm the esophagus or beak, with periodic exams to confirm the procedures’ safety.

Muscovy duckFarms would have to schedule regular visits by an animal health care professional to assess the general health and living conditions of the birds, and each bird would have to be inspected for good health by a USDA approved officer at the time of slaughter. Caretakers would have to be properly trained, adequately supervised and “gentle and calm in their gestures and movement.” Birds would have to be raised in an environment that helps build and maintain strength in their legs and overall good health, and would have to be hand-fed in a manner adapted to their age and size; each bird would be checked before feeding to evaluate its capacity so the amount of feed could be kept only to what’s necessary.

And birds would have to be kept in comfortable conditions to minimize stress and maximize comfort at each stage, with appropriate lighting, access to clean water, anti-pest measures, and suitable temperatures consistent with local weather conditions. Starting in 2017, birds would have to be “cage free” – not be housed or fed at any time in cages that restrict theirs ability to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their wings.

For a list of chefs who’ve signed onto this charter, follow after the jump:

I’ve put the greater Bay Area names in bold to make them easier to spot.

Matthew Accarrino, SPQR, San Francisco
Peter Armellino, Plumed Horse, Saratoga
John Ash, John Ash and Co. Restaurant, Santa Rosa
Manuel Azevedo, La Sallette, Sonoma
Jeff Banker, Baker and Banks, San Francisco
Daniel Barron, Evolve Cuisine, San Diego
Michael Beck, The Valley Hunt Club, Pasadena
Ian Begg, Txoko, San Francisco
Mark Berkner, Taste, Plymouth
Jason Berthold, RN74, San Francisco
Jan Birmbaum, Epic Roasthouse, San Francisco
Chris Borges, Taste, San Francisco
Pajo Bruich, Lounge ON20, Sacramento
Sean Chaney, Hot’s Kitchen, Hermosa Beach
Cory Chen, Yan Can Asian Bistro, Santa Clara
Michael Chiarello, Bottega, Yountville
Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles
Josiah Citrin, Melisse, Santa Monica
John Clark, Foreign Cinema, San Francisco
David Coleman, Michael on Naples, Long Beach
Chris Cosentino, Incanto, San Francisco
Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
Dave Cruz, Ad Hoc, Yountville
Greg Daniels, Haven Gastropub, Orange
Gary Danko, Gary Danko, San Francisco
Traci Des Jardins, Jardiniere, San Francisco
Mark Dommen, One Market, San Francisco
Vinny Dotolo, Animal, Hollywood
Michael Dotson, Martins West, Redwood City
Lissa Doumani, Ame Restaurant, San Francisco
Didier Dutertre, Bistro Moulin, Monterey
Scott Ekstrom, Angele Restaurant, Napa
Joey Elentrio, Chez TJ, Mountain View
Elizabeth Falkner, Citizen Cake, San Francisco
David Feau, The Royce, Pasadena
Tyler Florence, Wayfare Tavern, San Francisco
Ken Frank, La Toque, Napa
Alain Giraud, Maison Giraud, Pacific Palisades
Mark Gold, Eva Restaurant, Los Angeles
Matthew Gordon, Urban Solace, San Diego
Molly Hawks, Hawks Restaurant, Granite Bay
Rory Herrman, Bouchon, Beverly Hills
Bruce Hill, Picco, San Francisco
Timothy Hollingsworth, The French Laundry, Yountville
Philippe Jeanty, Bistro Jeanty, Yountville
Victor Jimenez, The Cowboy Star, San Diego
Laurence Jossel, Nopa, San Francisco
Yuko Kaji, CHAYA Brasserie, San Francisco
Doug Keane, Cyrus, Healdsburg
Thomas Keller, The French Laundry, Napa
Adam Keough, The Absinthe Group, San Francisco
David Kinch, Manresa, Los Gatos
Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood, Saint Helena
Mourad Lahlou, Aziza, San Francisco
Cory Lee, Benu, San Francisco
Ludo Lefebvre, LudoBites, Los Angeles
Robbie Lewis, Bon Appetit Management Co., San Francisco
Emily Luchetti, Waterbar, San Francisco
Rafael Lunetta, JiRaffe, Santa Monica
Doug MacFarland, Ramekins, Sonoma
Michel Malecot, The French Gourmet, San Diego
Walter Manzke, Republique Restaurant, Los Angeles
Joey Miller, Joe’s Restaurant, Venice Beach
Michael Mina, Michael Mina Restaurant Group, San Francisco
Matthew Mullowney, La Toque, Napa
Patrick Mulvaney, Mulvaney’s BandL, Sacramento
Nancy Oakes, Boulevard, San Francisco
Pascal Olhats, Brasserie Pascal, Newport Beach
Ryan O’Melveney Wilson, Five Crowns and Side Door, Corona Del Mar
Norman Owens, Hot Box Grill, Sonoma
Ileah Paolinelli, Claudine, San Francisco
Robert Pascucci, Ariccia Italian Market, La Jolla
Roland Passot, La Folie, San Francisco
Cindy Pawlcyn, Mustards, Napa
Charles Phan, The Slanted Door, San Francisco
Tim Quaintance, Boulevard, San Francisco
Richard Reddington, Redd’s Restaurant, Napa
Xavier Salomon, The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
Otto Sanchez, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
Michael Sandoval, Bouchon, Yountville
Victor Scargle, Lucy at Bardessono, Yountville
Daniel Scherotter, Palio D’Asti, San Francisco
Randall Selland, Selland Family Restaurants, Sacramento
Jon Shook, Son of a Gun, Los Angeles
Josh Silvers, Petite Syrah, Santa Rosa
Hiro Sone, Terra, Napa
Joachim Splichal, Patina, Los Angeles
Staffan, Terje, Perbacco, San Francisco
Michael Thiemann, Ella Dining Room and Bar, Sacramento
Josh Thomsen, Meritage at the Claremont, Berkeley
Ken Tominaga, Hana Japanese, Rohnert Park
Michael Tusk, Quince Restaurant, San Francisco
Dustin Valette, Dry Creek Kitchen, Healdsburg
Stephane Voitzwinkler, Bertrand at Mister A’s, San Diego
Joanne Weir, Maestra de Cocina, Sausalito
Dakota Weiss, W Los Angeles, Los Angeles
Micha Wexler, Mezze Restaurant, Los Angeles
Andrew Wilson, Carneros Bistro, Sonoma
Matthew Woolf, Hotel Angeleno, Joie de Vivre, Los Angeles
Sang Yoon, Father’s Office, Los Angeles
Hoss Zare, Zare Fly Trap, San Francisco
Marc Zimmerman, Alexander’s, San Francisco
Noah Zonca, The Kitchen, Sacramento

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Is John Burton a slightly younger version of Pete Stark?

  • Elwood

    John Burton’s mind was destroyed by coke.

    Who knows what happened to Stark.

  • Josh Richman

    Re #1 – I assume that was a rhetorical question, RR, but for the record: Burton is 13 months younger than Stark.

  • Truthclubber


    Cruelty is cruelty, no matter what kind of “skirt” you want to put on it (or yourself).

    Just because we can (force feed “lesser” species to morph them into yummy morsels) doesn’t mean we should, any more than we should demand that able bodied 12 year olds should be allowed (er, forced if their economic circumstances allow) to work in factories (or as janitors, as Gingrich promoted) for 40+ hours per week.

    Gandhi was right.

  • Truthclubber

    As a rejoinder, I looked at the list of the “Foie Nazis” (the ones who can’t abide by this afront to gastronomy!) and saw that Josh’s eye was a bit too permissive, as regards regions of California:

    The following nine restauranteurs need to be added to the (bold listing) “Northern California region” list:

    Jason Berthold, RN74, San Francisco
    Pajo Bruich, Lounge ON20, Sacramento
    Chris Cosentino, Incanto, San Francisco
    Didier Dutertre, Bistro Moulin, Monterey
    Molly Hawks, Hawks Restaurant, Granite Bay
    Patrick Mulvaney, Mulvaney’s BandL, Sacramento
    Randall Selland, Selland Family Restaurants, Sacramento
    Michael Thiemann, Ella Dining Room and Bar, Sacramento
    Noah Zonca, The Kitchen, Sacramento

    With that, we see that 73 of the 103 (~71%) “whine-a-lots” are from this region, which represents maybe 1/3 of the population of California.

    Oh, we ARE such liberals up here, compared to our brethen down in LA/SD, aren’t we?

  • DanvilleDemocrat

    Folks should educate themselves about foie gras production before assuming it’s “torture” for the ducks to be “forced” to swallow the feed that fattens their livers — ducks possess no gag reflex, and eat food naturally this way. That it comes from a machine is really of no consequence.

    Comments above notwithstanding, I like Senator Burton a lot — but he’s just not well-educated on this issue.

  • JohnW

    The free market, consumer-driven approach to this would be to require transparency. How might that work? (a) require that menus include the English translation – “fat liver;” and (b) require that menus include a brief visual description of the methodology for producing the delicacy. Of course, if we took that approach to many dishes served in restaurants, many of us would just become vegans, which would help with the obesity problem!

  • Truthclubber

    @6 — “ducks…eat food naturally this way…that…comes from a machine….”

    Really? Coulda fooled me — every time I’ve observed ducks they want nothing to do with machines.

    The industry has had 8 years to get ready for this ban on cruelty toward this species of waterfowl — deal with it.

    I doubt that Western Civilization as we know it will come to a crashing halt on the morning of July 1st because of this…so move on.

    We have ‘bigger’ problems to solve — like the ‘exploding’ obesity epidemic in this country and the Medicare bills that we will all have to ‘fork’ over our taxes to pay for…

  • Truthclubber

    @7 — An obesity problem? In America? What obesity problem?

    If it was such a problem that it cost us all close to $600 per person, each year, you would think that the government would demand something be done about it!

    Like, perhaps, insisting that people with a BMI over a certain number (say, 30 for obese, or 40 for “morbidly obese”, which BTW means “deathly fat”) pay much more for their health care, if they can get it at all!

    But wait, they did, via ObamaCare!

    The U.S. health care reform law of 2010 allows employers to charge obese workers 30 percent to 50 percent more for health insurance if they decline to participate in a qualified wellness program.