SAN FRANCISCO - Champaign corks are popping now that the U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld California's ban against foie gras, the fatty liver of a duck that's been forced fed. ABC7 I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes broke a series of undercover reports in 2003 that led to the law. The state passed a law banning foie gras in 2004 that went into effect in 2012.
The legal battle has been like watching a tennis match. The ABC7 I-Team's reports led to the ban, some restaurants fought back and continued to serve foie gras. The farms filed lawsuits and the state answered and today, this major ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Restaurants around the state have been selling the gourmet delicacy, foie gras, despite the 2004 law banning it. Foie gras producers and restaurants filed suit to overturn the ban. But on Friday the federal appeals court upheld the law.
Attorney Chris Berry has been working the issue for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
He says, "This is a cruel practice and based on this decision today it is also illegal."
The I-Team first reported in 2003 that activists raided a foie gras farm near Stockton, taking undercover video.
"We really didn't know that as we walked in, we were going to encounter sick birds, dead birds, birds with open festering wounds and that each one of them would be looking at us essentially begging to get out," said activist Sarah-jane Blum.
The activists recorded how foie gras is made. At least two times a day, a worker grabs a duck, shoves a long thick metal pole down its throat and shoots up to a pound of corn into the duck.
During two to three weeks of force-feeding, the birds' livers expand up to twelve times their normal size.
The owner of the ranch, now closed, admitted the ducks would die from force-feeding if they weren't slaughtered for their livers first.
Dan Noyes asked Duck Farmer Guillermo Gonzalez, "At what point does it become abuse?"
"At the point they can no longer represent a healthy product," he said.
What was especially disturbing to both sides in this controversy were the pictures of ducks too weak or overweight to defend themselves against rats at the ranch. The rats were eating ducks alive.
Avian Veterinarian Laurie Siperstein-Cook said, "A healthy duck wouldn't let that happen. They would be able to get away. Ducks can be very aggressive."
After I showed the I-Team reports to State Senator John Burton, he sponsored the foie gras ban. After it became law, some restaurants refused to stop selling it and the court battles began.
A California chefs' group pledged to continue the fight saying in a statement, "While vegan extremists may be celebrating, the court's ruling defies the Constitution, and the reality is that the case is far from over."
It goes on to say, "If California gets away with this, what's next? Bacon?"
The chef's group told ABC7 Reporter Dan Noyes they will ask for a rehearing on Friday's ruling and until that process plays out, foie gras can still be sold legally.