New York City, often viewed as the fine dining capital of America, on Wednesday became the latest US locality to ban the sale of foie gras, prompting the country's largest producer of foie gras to vow to mount a court battle to overturn it.
Foie gras, French for "fatty liver," is a delicacy produced from the enlarged livers of ducks and geese that have been force-fed corn.
Animal rights groups contend that the force-feeding process is painful and gruesome. Farmers who raise birds for foie gras defend their practices as humane.
The New York City Council voted 42-6 to "ban the sale or provision of certain force-fed poultry products" beginning in 2022, imposing a fine between $500 and $2,000 for each violation.
"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.
The nation's largest maker of foie gras, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, located in Ferndale, New York, about 100 miles (160 km) northwest 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, Unger said.
But 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 percent of restaurants in New York City serve it," 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 U.S. Supreme Court, the nation's highest court, in January declined to hear an appeal from foie gras producers.