Legislation that once would have prohibited the sale and production of foie gras in California has been turned completely inside out. Rather than stopping cruelty, SB 1520 now guarantees the legalized torture of ducks and geese for many years to come. The revised bill would be better named the Sonoma Foie Gras Protection Act. Friends of Animals (FoA) is asking our California members to urge Sen. John Burton to pull the amended version of his bill, and to urge Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto the bill should it reach his desk.

The production of foie gras is infamously harrowing. Beginning at about 12 weeks of age, ducks and geese suffer through multiple daily feedings where grain is forcibly pumped directly into their stomachs through a long pipe that is crammed down their throats. These force feedings continue until their livers are so overloaded and swollen that the animals can barely move. The birds are then slaughtered for the purpose of removing their abnormally swollen livers, which are then marketed as the “delicacy” called foie gras.

There are three commercial producers of foie gras in the United States that we know of. One of them, Sonoma Foie Gras, is based in California. Within the last year, there has been extensive media coverage of the horrific conditions at the Sonoma Foie Gras factory. The news coverage was prompted by activists who documented the gruesome conditions. A subsequent lawsuit filed against Sonoma Foie Gras alleged that the company’s practices violated California’s existing animal cruelty laws.

According to FoA attorney Terry Berger, “The bill, in its original form, would have stopped the torture of ducks by Sonoma Foie Gras. And it would have banned the sale of foie gras. The bill’s sponsors have betrayed their original intent and have agreed to eliminate even the possibility of a ban on foie gras until the year 2012. Moreover, Sonoma Foie Gras insisted that SB 1520 formally and explicitly declare that its forced feeding practices be declared legal under California law until 2012.”

Berger adds “Still worse, SB 1520 now protects this company from both civil and criminal actions. This would include the outright dismissal of any pending lawsuits that have been filed against it by activist organizations.” The advocacy groups who promoted the bill agreed to the bill after it was eviscerated in this way.

As the bill stands, there is no real “ban” of foie gras guaranteed even in 2012. Given that the bill states “(c) It is the express intention of the Legislature, by delaying the operative date of provisions of this chapter…until July 1, 2012, to allow a seven and one-half year period for individuals engaged in agricultural practices that include raising and selling force fed birds to modify their business practices,” it is foreseeable that the industry will try to prove that foie gras production can be acceptable.The only guarantee of SB 1520, if signed into law, is unprecedented legal protection for Sonoma Foie Gras for eight more years. Then, after they have time to buttress their arguments in support of continuing the industry, the legislation could allow it to continue its current practices indefinitely and unchanged.

Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral concludes, “The bottom line is this: Sonoma Foie Gras was faced with extinction. Now, it is being guaranteed heretofore unheard-of protection. The only winner, if this legislation becomes law, is Sonoma Foie Gras. The losers are the ducks and the geese.”