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New York bans foie gras on animal cruelty grounds

Ban will take effect in Oct 2022; prohibits establishments from selling, serving or even possessing foie gras

Animal rights activists holding a rally in June in support of a bill to ban the sale of foie gras in New York.

Ducks at Hudson Valley Foie Gras Farm, America's largest maker of foie gras, in Ferndale, New York. Marcus Henley, the manager of Hudson Valley, which employs 400 people, says the farm makes foie gras "in conformity with humane animal management and in compliance with the laws of the state of New York". He intends to head to court to seek to overturn the ruling.

New York

NEW YORK can stake a claim to being the culinary capital of the world, but one famous dish is about to be taken off the menu: foie gras.

The city council voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to ban the sale of the French delicacy from 2022.

Lawmakers ruled that it is cruel to force-feed ducks and geese to fatten their livers for human consumption.

"The council is banning a really cruel and inhumane practice," said Jeremy Unger, spokesman for Council member Carlina Rivera of Manhattan, who introduced the bill.

Animal rights activists long supported the move, but foie gras farmers and fine-dining restaurants are likely to cry foul.

The law is set to go into effect in October 2022 and prohibits any establishment from selling, serving or even possessing foie gras.

The motion was passed by 42 votes to six. It comes after the US Supreme Court upheld a similar ban in California in January, ending a 15-year legal battle. The bill bars the sale of foie gras produced by "force-feeding birds", with each violation punishable by a US$2,000 fine. But not all foie gras comes from ducks or geese that have been force-fed, and determining whether foie gras was illegally produced may present an enforcement challenge.

Foie gras farmers claim that force-feeding is not cruel and that activists have exaggerated the suffering that the animals are subjected to. The industry is exploring alternative ways of replicating foie gras that does not involve force-feeding.

The New York ban is expected to hit the state's two major producers, Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle Farms. The nation's largest maker of foie gras, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, located in Ferndale, New York, about 100 miles (160 km) north-west of New York City, defended the practice it uses to make the luxury item.

The other two foie gras makers in the United States are La Belle Farms, also located in Ferndale, and Au Bon Canard in Caledonia, Minnesota.

"I can tell you we take proper care of the birds," said Hudson Valley manager Marcus Henley. He said the farm, which employs 400 people, makes foie gras "in conformity with humane animal management and in compliance with the laws of the state of New York".

The ban would take effect in three years, in a move meant to give farmers time to retool their businesses to focus on other products, Mr Unger said.

But Mr Henley said New York City represents about a third of his farm's revenues and rather than planning to adjust its business, he intends to head to court to seek to overturn it.

It was unclear how many restaurants and groceries would be affected by the ban.

"We don't have an exact number but roughly 1 per cent of restaurants in New York City serve it," Mr Unger said.

Foie gras bans passed elsewhere in the United States have had mixed results. Chicago's City Council approved a ban in 2006, only to repeal it two years later after then-Mayor Richard Daley called it the "silliest ordinance" ever passed in the Windy City, which made it "the laughingstock of the nation".

California's ban on foie gras went into effect in 2012 and remains in effect after the US Supreme Court, the nation's highest court, in January declined to hear an appeal from foie gras producers. AFP, REUTERS

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