When is a ban not a ban?

There are a number of situations in which a rule or a law with the language of “prohibition” does not deliver what it promises.

For example:

  • When it essentially becomes a delay tactic.
  • When the trade-off means an exploitive industry is fully protected by the state from challenges that could potentially shut it down.

And that—all of it—happened to SB 1520.

This past March, California State Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco), Senate President pro Tempore, introduced SB 1520. Originally, California’s SB 1520 was to take immediate effect. It would have presented the clear opportunity to end the foie gras production in California. In its latest amended form, it is delayed until July 2012, and the company it would have banned has expressed public thanks for its provisions.

“Between now and July 2012,” Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral has noted, “the Sonoma Foie Gras company of California will stuff alive and slaughter approximately 440,000 ducks.”[1]

Guillermo Gonzales of Sonoma Foie Gras has stated that the company will use the delayed implementation to launch a public relations campaign [2] to buttress its absurd claim that its business can be humane. Amazingly, the sponsoring Senator has publicly agreed that it might be done, thereby indicating that this ostensible ban might only take effect if the company fails to enhance its methods.[3]

What happened to the intent to ban this practice?

Europeans have been carrying out experiments designed to prove humane methods are possible. They are so far unsuccessful, not surprisingly. Foie gras cannot be produced “humanely” but many ducks and geese have been and will be killed over the question.

Sonoma Foie Gras cannot honestly demonstrate that production is humane by 2012; the practice is per se inhumane. But Francine Bradley, “poultry specialist” at University of California Cooperative Extension at UC Davis, has “commended” Sonoma Foie Gras on their methods and the “great care they take with their birds,” lending an air of academic legitimacy to the company.[4] So between now and July 2012, Sonoma Foie Gras will stuff alive and slaughter approximately 440,000 ducks — “with great care”> as we are reassured.

The idea of a ban is being grossly manipulated in California. The 7.5 year bargain saves face for the current legislature to leave the affected foie gras producer alone in California for quite some time. Meanwhile, that Sonoma Foie Gras intends to use the delay in SB 1520 as a time to work with experimenters is a matter of public record. How many more birds will Sonoma Foie Gras condemn to the torture of experiments?

There is more. If the bill’s language retains the bizarre language of its latest amendment Californians won’t be able to sue Sonoma Foie Gras for state anti-cruelty violations. It seems their rights are being bargained away without their permission.

And between now and July 2012, Sonoma Foie Gras will stuff alive and slaughter approximately 440,000 ducks.

As far as we know, pressure from FoA and local California activists has not reversed the perfidious amendments. Those who cut the deal with the industry are telling us to quiet down as they work behind the scenes telling the animal advocacy movement nothing about the negotiations with the lawmaking body and Sonoma Foie Gras.

Between now and 2012, if the key provisions in SB 1520’s amendments pass, the Sonoma Foie Gras company of California will enjoy the protection of California law to stuff alive and slaughter approximately 440,000 ducks.

Activists don’t have to accept SB1520 as amended. It’s time to cut the ducks’ losses.

Update on SB 1520: The Sonoma Foie Gras Protection Act

On Tuesday, August 24, The California Assembly voted 44-28 to approve SB 1520.

In his testimony, Assemblyperson Joe Nation stated: “I want to emphasize this. Sonoma Foie Gras, the only producer of foie gras in California, supports SB 1520.”

In fact, Somoma Foie Gras retained a lobbyist to work on getting the bill passed.

Please immediately contact Gov. Schwarzenegger. Ask him to veto SB 1520. Tell him that SB 1520 benefits the state’s foie gras producer, and its weakening amendments make matters worse for ducks — at least 440,000 that will be force-fed through the year 2012 — and likely beyond.

You can contact the governor’s office at 916-445-2841 or by fax at 916-445-4633 http://www.governor.ca.gov.


Priscilla Feral Signature

Priscilla Feral
President, Friends of Animals


  1. The calculation of the number of ducks derives from numbers published in The Santa Rosa Press Democrat (12 July 2004): “About 55,000 ducks were processed at the farm [SFG] in 2002 to make the high-end treat that sells for up to $45 a pound.” 55,000 x 8 years = 440,000 ducks.
  2. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat July 12, 2004
  3. “Gonzalez may be able to make pátè politically palatable before the deadline. “If he thinks it’s possible, I assume it’s possible. He’s a nice guy.” “- Senator Burton, as quoted in The Los Angeles Times.
  4. L. Alley, “California, New York Legislators Propose Foie Gras Ban,” Wine Spectator February 24, 2004.