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Appeals court upholds California ban on foie gras

A piece of foie gras from a Mulard duck is seen at the Ferme Basque in St-Urbain, June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger
A piece of foie gras from a Mulard duck is seen at the Ferme Basque in St-Urbain, June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California can continue to ban the sale of foie gras, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday, in a setback for producers of the delicacy who have sought to ship it to the state.

The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds an earlier ruling by a district court judge. California's ban on the food went into effect in July 2012.

Foie gras means "fatty liver" in French. Prized for its rich flavor and smooth texture, the delicacy is produced by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese to enlarge their livers, which are harvested to make gourmet dishes. Animal rights groups contend that the force-feeding process is painful, gruesome and inhumane.

Los Angeles-based Hot's Restaurant Group, Canada's Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d'Oies du Quebec and New York producer Hudson Valley Foie Gras challenged the ban in a lawsuit filed last year.

They argued the state's law banning the sale of foie gras is vague because it lacks specifics on how much food a bird can be fed. But Judge Harry Pregerson in the appeals court's 27-page opinion dismissed that argument.

"The specific example of force feeding under the statute - feeding a bird using a tube so that the bird will consume more food than it would consume voluntarily - is how plaintiffs feed their ducks during the gavage (force feeding) stage," Pregerson wrote. As a result, he said, the "definition of force feeding is not vague."

The panel also dismissed the plaintiffs' argument that the ban interferes with interstate commerce.

Michael Tenenbaum, an attorney for the foie gras producers, said producers could appeal the panel's decision to the full Ninth Circuit Court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Stacey Joyce)

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