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Monday, June 18, 2012

Finally … almost July 1, 2012

Many people have been waiting for that date to come around since 2004. Why? It is the date that California steps up to the plate and bans the production of foie gras, a so-called delicacy made from the livers of ducks and geese who have been force-fed. Moreover, being a pioneer in anti-cruelty legislation, the state also bans the sale of this inherently cruel product.

In some ways this is a tough blog for me to write, as there are loads of people and organizations who played a major role in this fight for compassion, and it would be difficult to adequately cover them all. But this is just my perspective on this historic bill as someone who worked to pass it.

From 2000-2006, I was running an organization called Viva!USA and we had a long campaign to stop the sale of duck “meat” and feathers. We conducted investigations of factory farms across the U.S. and got corporations to make changes.

In the fall of 2003, Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) released their investigations of Sonoma Foie Gras, one of the few producers of foie gras in the country. (APRL also conducted investigations at Hudson Valley Foie Gras and foie gras farms in France.) 
The ALF played a role in some amazing outreach by exposing to the public what foie gras was about.

In 2003, I was approached by Teri Barnato, who was the head of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), to see if Viva!USA would be interested in joining AVAR and Los Angeles Lawyers for Animals (specifically Orly Degani) to introduce legislation to stop the force feeding of ducks and geese for foie gras.
Teri was able to secure an author for the foie gras bill (Senator John Burton) by the end of 2003, and we were also joined by Farm Sanctuary. 

Now, my time spent at the Capitol, up until this point, was working to stop bills (mostly one that would allow the sale and importation of kangaroo skins into the state), but this was my first real involvement in passing legislation.  Although I strongly encourage participation in local legislation (county, city and state), I found it to be too uncomfortable for me – too full of compromises.

One of these compromises was the delay in enacting the bill that would ban foie gras. Instead of taking effect the next year, they allowed a 7-year phase-out period. Now, this was a deal the legislators made – not us. But I saw this as our insurance policy. If activists couldn’t get foie gras production shut down before then, by 2012, the law would make it happen. And this is where we are almost at now!

When you work on legislation, every committee hearing can make or break your bill. You could have worked for months and then in one hearing, it could be all over. All of the work, support and change you were trying to make would be gone in one hearing – possibly due to a single vote.  And, not surprisingly,  it is also very political – sometimes it is more a matter of how well legislators get along, or how they  have voted on each other’s bill. Yikes – too much for me. I prefer corporate campaigns. So to people, like my friend and colleague Jennifer Fearing (California State Director for HSUS), who has been incredibly successful at the Capitol for the animals, more power to you.

One of the most important components of the foie gras bill came from the author himself: SB 1520, as mentioned earlier, bans not just the force feeding of birds, but the actual sale of foie gras – a prohibition added by John Burton! Of course, we were in complete agreement and elated. Eventually, as the bill got closer to getting to the desk of the Governor, more of the larger groups started to pitch in. And then on the Governor’s desk – we wondered and worried.

One of the things that I hear now (when the bill is close to coming into effect) and I heard when we were working to pass it, was this ridiculous concept of the “slippery slope”  -- that once California banned foie gras, they might go on to prohibit other animal cruelties. As much as I wish there were indeed a slippery slope, the arguments made by those who profit off the suffering of these gentle birds should be called out for what they are saying. It is utter nonsense.

It was easy to remind the legislators that they are the ones passing the laws, and as much as I wanted them to ban the sale of animal products, were they really going to do it?

But those who profit at the expense of others (whether it be for
animal products or chocolate) will say what they will to make them seem like the victims. To some it seems to be more about arrogance than anything else.

To have chefs rallying to be allowed to sell a product of cruelty and having parties is really unbelievable. I mean, really – having a party to say goodbye to a luxury item? As an activist I have heard the original quip “get a life” (when all I am trying to do is save some), but those who have parties for a luxury item put on a cracker?  Apparently the people paying a high price for this delicacy of despair have *nothing* better to do with their money? 

Talk about mixed-up priorities. 

I would call it selfish and ignorant only because these people must know and understand the suffering of the birds, because, otherwise, why would they be at a party to protest a law?

And that is something I feel like people forget is that this is indeed a law. Legislators and Governor Swarzenegger (who I would say was not an animal-friendly governor) signed it into law.

In a state like California, where we have communities that do not have access to healthy foods and many others that go hungry, you have to wonder about chefs crying over a luxury item. 
Something like this really makes you question where the priorities are in this country. It makes me shudder.

But for now, I will join others in sharing this long-awaited date. I will look at the ducks on the lakes and ponds and thank activists around the globe for their work in helping these precious, gentle birds have one less cruelty inflicted upon them.

A huge shout out to everyone who made calls and sent their letters and emails to legislators when we were working to pass SB 1520.  Groups big and small helped out in the end. Thanks also to those activists (and groups like APRL) who continue to expose the conditions suffered by factory farmed ducks and the cruelty behind foie gras. 

Photo at the top:  Quincy lives at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you to Lauren for such an honest, open post about the reality behind the process behind animal protection legislation. Sounds unethical, archaic and painfully slow to me. I am also grateful to John Burton, APRL and everyone else who helped get Senate Bill 1520 passed, albeit far too lenient, phasing out production of Foie Gras Farms in California, over the past 6 years. Let's ENSURE that it is DONE, without further delay or back sliding!!I would like to join this group but my pop up blocker wouldn't open the window for some reason. I would honestly like to see greed driven producers prosecuted, and everyone educated about this horrific abuse of animals, IF it continues beyond this year! We MUST boycott & campaign against all chefs, stores & restaurants who support this disgraceful industry until EVERY foie gras farm is closed down! Lobbyists masquerading as the Coalition for Humane & Ethical Farming must also be exposed for the pro foie gras lobbyists they are. I believe that when enough people are aware of the atrocities being committed, politicians will feel the pressure and law enforcement will have to prosecute the offenders for violations. I will celebrate your victory when there is an end to the suffering & horrific deaths of countless numbers of ducks & geese, so needlessly, for too long. Godspeed!