Debra J. Saunders
John Burton has achieved the impossible. As the author of the 2004 bill that led to California's foie gras ban, the crusty former state senator, now chairman of the California Democratic Party, has made eating liver cool.

Before the ban went into effect last Sunday, high-end restaurants offered last-bite foie gras fare, and frantic foodies ran to gourmet shops to hoard up the last available portions. Even in San Francisco, where menus boast sustainable fish and local veggies, chichi eateries hosted last suppers for this most politically incorrect dish. It seems Californians have had their fill of laws that tell them what they can or cannot eat.

My beef with the foie gras ban is simple: I see it as a forward assault in the war on meat eating. The animal rights lobby goes after foie gras and caged birds when its ultimate goal is to shut down the poultry industry. For some activists, animal welfare doesn't mean humane treatment of farm animals, who, after all, are raised for slaughter; it means an end to farm animals.

"They're using foie gras as a wedge issue," Golden Gate Restaurant Association Executive Director Rob Black believes.

Burton tells me that was not his agenda. "This has nothing to do with meat," he assures me. "It has to do with animal cruelty. It has to do with jamming ducks and geese with a tube down their throat."

A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday argued that Burton's Bird Feeding Law puts an unfair burden on chefs because the law prohibits feeding birds "more food than a typical bird of the same species would consume voluntarily." Are producers supposed to calorie-count for ducks?

Nonsense, replies Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society in Sacramento. The law "requires an absence of the use of force-feeding." If producers can find a way to get the birds to engorge their livers by overeating without a tube, foie gras producers don't have to worry about the law.

Don't you really want to outlaw meat?

"My goal is to eliminate the cruelty associated with animals raised for food," Fearing tells me. She mentions her group's three-pronged approach to "humane eating" -- "reduce, refine, replace." The Burton ban, she says, "falls under the category of refinement."

But "replace" ultimately means getting people to eliminate meat from their diets, I counter.

"We can promote that," she answers. "That's different from saying we want to ban it. We want to promote people making the right choices for themselves."

Which I take to mean: The Humane Society doesn't want to ban the sale of meat -- yet.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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