By JESSE McKINLEY Published: April 30, 2012 NEW YORK TIMES
A collection of some of California's best-known chefs, including four-star celebrities like Thomas Keller, began a full-course press on the state's legislators on Monday, hoping to prevent a long-simmering ban on foie gras from taking effect on July 1.
The group, which calls itself the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, delivered a charter statement to lawmakers in Sacramento, advocating a wide variety of new animal-friendly commitments, including cage-free birds and hand feeding, to replace the current law, which would effectively bar foie gras from the state's menus.
"We want to create a humane market," said Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a member of the coalition. "Not a black market."
The ban would prohibit the production and sale of any product derived from force feeding birds to enlarge their livers beyond normal size -- the only way to mass produce the fatty French-inflected delicacy. The law was passed in 2004 but had a seven-and-a-half-year grace period. It is the nation's first such law to pass.
Nate Ballard, a spokesman for the coalition, said that members planned to follow the statement with personal visits to legislators this week, taking them to supper, if they are interested.
"The chefs are going to invite lawmakers to foie gras dinner in their districts, all over the state," Mr. Ballard said.
Regardless of one's tastes in food, supporters of the ban have long argued that it is necessary to prevent cruelty to ducks and geese. They say the animals suffer physical and emotional damage from force feeding, a process known as gavage.
"It's not about foie gras," said John Burton, a former California legislator who wrote the law. "It's about inhumane treatment of those birds."
Of course, California is no stranger to food fights. In 2008, voters approved a ban on restrictive cages for veal cattle, pigs and hens, and last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that forbade the sale or possession of shark fins, an Asian delicacy.
The foie gras ban, signed by Mr. Brown's predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has seemed to signal the end for Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, the state's only producer, whose owner, Guillermo Gonzalez, said he would shut down on June 30.
In the months leading up to the ban, restaurateurs have been increasingly vocal about their opposition.
Greg Daniels, who runs Haven Gastropub in Pasadena, Calif., said he feared it could result in the diminishment of the state's reputation as an adventurous and first-rate place to eat.
"I think the culinary landscape of California will change much more than anybody is realizing," Mr. Daniels said.
That reputation is carried by the likes of Mr. Keller, whose flagship restaurant, the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., is on the bucket list of many of the food obsessed. Last month, Mr. Keller issued a statement saying simply that his restaurant group would abide by the law when it took effect.
But on Monday, Mr. Keller's name was also among the more than 100 other chefs signing on to a raft of new promises regarding the production of foie gras, including a commitment to feeding methods that do not "harm the animal in any way."
All this seemed disingenuous to animal rights activists like Bryan Pease, a lawyer and founder of the Animal Protection and Rescue League, in San Diego, which has been protesting in front of restaurants where foie gras is still served, something he said was necessary to educate the public about the ban.
"We want people to know it's not this weird thing about banning duck liver," he said. "It's the force feeding that's being targeted."