A lawsuit filed last month in a New York court seeks to prevent New York City’s foie gras ban from taking effect this coming November, on Black Friday. The suit challenging the ban was filed by Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG) and La Belle Farm, which together “produce virtually all of the foie gras” that’s made in America. The plaintiffs seek to enjoin New York City from implementing the ban while they mount a broader legal challenge to overturn the ban entirely.
Foie gras, as I’ve explained many times, is the French term for fatty duck or goose liver. Farmers fatten the birds’ livers through a time-honored feeding process known as gavage, which capitalizes on these birds’ natural instinct to gorge themselves before migrating. Chefs, in turn, create some amazing dishes using foie gras as a main ingredient.
Animal-rights groups, a driving force behind New York’s ban, claim the process of producing foie gras is cruel. The farmers who produce foie gras, the chefs who cook with it, and the diners who enjoy it disagree.
Before the New York City Council chose sides and voted on the ban, HVFG invited council members and their staff to tour the farm and see how they produce foie gras. None came.
A lawsuit challenging the ban has been widely anticipated and welcomed, as I explained shortly after the city council implemented the ban.
“We will fight,” Ariane Daguin of leading foie gras seller D’Artagnan, based in New Jersey, told me in 2019.
Reached this week, Daguin welcomed that fight.
“Foie gras is a legal and wholesome agricultural product,” Daguin told me by email. “It happens to also be extremely delicious. A city council who refused to visit the farms has no business trying to ban it.”
In the suit, the plaintiffs contend that the city’s ban conflicts with various federal and state laws that allow foie gras to be produced and sold. The state-based claims, which the plaintiffs detail in the lawsuit, rest on both the state constitution and a state agricultural law that protects farms in the state “against unreasonable regulations.”
New York State has already tentatively weighed in on the ban. As the plaintiffs also note in the suit, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets informed New York City two years ago that its foie gras ban “directly and unreasonably restricts Plaintiffs’ farming operations in violation of” state law.
Beyond its solid legal claims, the lawsuit also explains the widespread economic damage the city’s foie gras ban would cause, impacting everyone from the plaintiffs’ farms and their employees to restaurateurs, chefs, and their staffs.
In the suit, they argue the ban “will inflict significant financial losses” on each party and on “the rural community in Sullivan County where they are major employers.” Combined, the plaintiffs say the ban would force them to lay off at least 100 employees. La Belle says the ban may force it to close entirely.
Other opponents of the ban have also warned about the dramatic impact a ban would have on both rural farming communities in the Hudson Valley and on top-flight restaurants in New York City.
“The fallout of the city’s foie gras ban shines a light on the tenuous relationship between rural regions and the metropolitan areas where agricultural products are sold,” the Albany Times Union reported last year. “The ripple effect of losing two duck farms in Sullivan County could be economically disastrous not just to the nearly 400 workers they employ, but to the local community that relies on the farms as an economic driver for the area.”
But it’s not just the ban’s illegal requirements and crushing economic costs that worry farmers, chefs, and diners throughout New York State. It’s also the prospect of falling prey to yet another law that erodes food freedom. While the New York City ban, known as Local Law 202, targets only foie gras, many worry that if the court were to uphold the ban, it could open the door for local governments throughout New York State to ban any number of foods.
“Nobody wants their local government passing laws on what they’re allowed to have for dinner,” wrote Ed Phillips, the attorney for the foie gras producers, in an email to me this week.
“The statewide implications of upholding Local Law 202 should be extremely troubling for farmers and consumers alike,” Phillips says. “If upheld, municipalities might adopt similar sales bans aimed at other farming practices deemed objectionable by some, such as banning the sale of eggs produced by caged chickens, or the sale of beef produced by corn-fed cattle. Imagine a local law banning the sale of any ‘slaughtered’ meat products, which would force most everyone to become a vegetarian. That can’t be ok.”
It is far from ok.
I made a very similar foot-in-the-door argument to the U.S. Supreme Court four years ago in an amicus brief in a case that asked the Court to overturn California’s terrible foie gras ban. Last month, a federal appeals court upheld a 2020 ruling that confirmed California’s foie gras ban prohibits restaurants from cooking and selling foie gras for now but does not prohibit people in the state from having foie gras they buy delivered to residences so they may cook it at home.
As the lawsuit challenging New York City’s ban proceeds, chefs in New York, who’ve opposed the ban vocally, are proceeding as if the court will grant an injunction, and the ban ultimately be overturned.
“We’re working on a new menu and we’re planning to have foie gras on the menu, as we always have,” Marco Moreira, executive chef and owner of Tocqueville, in Union Square, told the New York Post last week. “We’re not slowing down any time soon for sure.”
New York City Council members who voted in favor of the ridiculous foie gras ban and the animal-rights groups that supported it no doubt had hoped otherwise.