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At the end of this month, California will become the first state in the nation to enact a ban on that French staple, foie gras.
Although no one is going to keep Californians from raising their own super-stuffed ducks and geese — or halt bird livers from crossing the border in small quantities — residents of the state will no longer be able to find the exalted organ on any menu or store shelf or in any butcher’s display case.
This change has been a long time coming — since 2004, in fact, when California’s only foie gras producer (one of just three in the nation at the time) got caught violating basic animal welfare standards in a highly publicized incident.
The violation led not only to the producer’s shut-down, but also to a statewide ban on the sale of foie gras, with one concession: The ban would be deferred until July 1, 2012, so the industry could adapt to the change.
So why the ban?
At issue was not just this farmer’s one-time transgression, but also the California public’s obvious discomfort with the concept of foie gras.
In French, foie gras literally means “fatty liver.” In veterinary medicine, “fatty liver disease” or hepatic lipidosis is generally considered an unwelcome pathology that naturally — and uncomfortably — afflicts domestic cats and humans, among other species.
In the case of ducks and geese, however, the disease is not so “naturally” occurring. Rather, it’s artificially inflicted upon the animal via extreme overfeeding, thereby flooding the bloodstream with an overabundance of nutrients that are ultimately deposited as fat under the bird’s skin and — most profitably — into the liver.
In and of itself, this practice probably wouldn’t upset most people. After all, we’re content to stuff cattle full of corn in feedlots designed specifically to fatten them up for our consumption. Even if foie gras consumers understood that the liver hails from an effectively diseased bird, the vast majority probably wouldn’t care. The French have been eating it for millennia, right?
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