Supreme Court clears way for California foie gras ban

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for California's ban on foie gras to go into effect after a seven-year legal battle.

The high court declined without comment to review a ruling in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld a state law prohibiting the sale of foie gras from force-fed ducks and geese.

Kelsey Eberly, a lawyer with the Cotati-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, said she expects the 2012 law to go into effect within a day or two. 

"The suffering ducks endure to produce foie gras is intolerable and rightfully outlawed," the fund's executive director Stephen Wells said in a statement. The group filed friend-of-the court briefs supporting the state's defense of the law.

The ban was challenged in a 2012 lawsuit by foie gras producers from the province of Quebec, Canada, and the Hudson Valley of New York and by a Southern California restaurant chain.

The groups said in a statement they plan to go back to a federal trial judge in Los Angeles to argue constitutional claims against the law.

But Eberly said she believes there is little left for a trial judge to consider in the wake of last year's appeals court ruling.

"From our perspective, the 9th Circuit decision ends the matter," she said.

In 2015, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson of Los Angeles struck down the law on that ground that it conflicted with a U.S. law that prohibits states from imposing ingredient requirements that differ from federal requirements for poultry products.

But in its ruling last year, the 9th Circuit said the force feeding did not concern an ingredient, but rather the way the birds are treated while alive.

Foie gras, which means "fat liver" in French, is made from the livers of ducks or geese. In the last stages of feeding, birds are force-fed through a tube in order to enlarge their livers.

The ban on sales within California of foie gras from birds that have been force-fed anywhere in the world was one of two parts of a law passed by the Legislature in 2004. The measure went into effect in 2012.

The second part of the law prohibited force-feeding of birds within California. That part was not challenged in the lawsuit.