New York’s City Council has voted 42 to six to ban the sale of foie gras — part of an animal welfare bill package that also bans the capture of wild birds and adds restrictions to horse drawn carriages.
The new law banning “force-fed poultry products” won’t have an immediate impact on the roughly 1,000 New York City restaurants serving foie gras on their menus — or the small New York farmers supplying them, which say they could eventually lose up to 400 workers under the new law. A three-year grace period is built into the bill before fines of $2,000 per violation will be levied against offenders. According to the Times, Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to allow the bills to lapse into law.
But when the ban does take effect, chefs like Ken Oringer do expect to feel a real blow. At his Chelsea tapas restaurant Toro, dishes like foie gras torchons with buttermilk biscuits and foie gras katsu sandwiches are some of his best-selling items. “[Diners] want to eat something different, something delicious,” he says, and foie gras provides that.
But foie gras hasn’t been a huge part of menus at new restaurants in New York for a while; many chefs now use it sparingly, if at all.
Instead, the biggest impact will be for upstate farmers and meat distributors. Ariane Daguin, who founded the meat and game distribution company D’Artagnan more than 30 years ago, says she currently sells about $15 million of foie gras to New York chefs. And Marcus Henley, who runs 37-year-old Ferndale farm Hudson Valley Foie Gras, says foie gras is its biggest and most lucrative product, generating about $35 million in annual sales.
The broader economic impact on the local economy in the farm’s Sullivan County could be even larger. ”When you have a community like ours, outside the city and the resources of the city, bringing in money from outside the area, as our foie gras sales do, is very important to the local economy,” Henley says.
Both Daguin and Henley say that foie gras has been misunderstood. “If I were a duck, I say often, I would rather be a foie gras duck — I’d live a nice life,” says Daguin. Henley invited city council members to visit; none went, with members like health committee chair Carlina Rivera, who sponsored the legislation, expressing doubts they’d see a fair picture of the practice.
The main point of contention is gavage, a force-feeding process where farmers fatten a duck’s liver to ten times its previous size. It takes place three times a day for 12 weeks, corresponding to a period of migration in a duck’s life, Henley explains. “It’s not harmful, and comfortable, with a tiny little tube the size of your finger.”
But opponents like Matthew Dominguez, who represents New York’s Voters for Animal Rights and sponsored the anti-foie gras legislation, call the process inhumane. “This is about animal cruelty for us, stopping a product just like we would if something was produced by child labor,” says Dominguez. And New Yorkers might agree with him. Per Voters for Animal Rights, a poll shows 81 percent of NYC voters support the ban.
If California’s fight over foie gras offers any preview, however, New York’s battle is far from over. After California lawmakers enacted a ban in 2012, a 2015 court ruling struck it down. But eventually, a 2017 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of appeals uphold the original statute, and when the US Supreme court rejected a challenge from the foie gras industry, California restaurants removed foie gras from their menus once again.
“We’re pretty confident this law won’t be enforced and [will be] overturned in court,” predicts Henley. “We’re not gonna let 400 people lose their jobs without a fight.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of foie gras that D’Artagnan sells to NY chefs. It is $15 million, not $50 million.