California Kills the Golden Goose Liver

In 1961, Julia Child published the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which along with her show The French Chef introduced a culinarily parochial nation to the mysteries of boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and the rich duck liver known as foie gras (literally “fatty liver”). Child is celebrated for raising the standard of American cooking and enlarging the national palate. Yet according to the state of California, she is one of history’s greatest monsters.

As of 2012, California banned the sale of any product that “is the result of force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size.” This rather clumsy description targeted foie gras. Animal rights activists have long derided the foodstuff on the theory that the traditional method of production is a moral abomination. In 2005 they succeeded in passing a law that, after a seven-year delay, banned not only force-feeding within the state, but also the sale of any such product produced elsewhere.

In defense of their delicacy, industry representatives challenged the ban. Lead by a Canadian nonprofit, they filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to hear their case. The Cato Institute has now joined the Reason Foundation to file an amicus brief encouraging the Court to take the case. The brief argues that Congress has established uniform standards for poultry products, consistent with federal authority to normalize the flow of interstate commerce, and that California isn’t entitled to override this congressional judgment.

Reasonable people may disagree as to the ethics of food production, and each of us is entitled to consume or eschew what we wish. What we aren’t entitled to do is impose our idiosyncratic ethics on others. Foie gras is a safe, wholesome ingredient—though it may go straight to your hips—consumed by millions around the world. Some disapprove of that, just as some disapprove of animal products altogether. Jello Biafra long ago warned that in Jerry Brown’s hippie utopia the suede-denim secret police would force your children to meditate in school. Even he didn’t foresee the possibility of mandatory veganism, yet that’s where we’re headed if this law is allowed to stand.

In sum, the high court should review Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec v. Becerra because sometimes state power simply isn’t all it’s quacked up to be.