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California bans foie gras: Does the government have the right to tell you what to eat?

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
June 28, 2012

Feathers have been flying in California as the state moves closer to its July 1 deadline for banning all duck and goose foie gras and foie gras byproducts, including feathers for down-filled jackets and duvets, reports the LA Times.

It seems the issue is divided. Animal rights activists have been crying cruelty over gavage, the process for fattening a duck or goose liver, in which the birds are fed through a tube down their throats. On the flip side, pro-foie gras Californians have been gorging themselves on the delicacy at foie gras-themed parties, in the weeks leading up to deadline.

In an age when the mayor of New York City successfully pushed through a ban on supersized soda and municipalities everywhere, including Toronto, have banned the sale of shark fin, the Times story poses the question, "Can morality be legislated?"

Also see: Would you pay more for a hard-to-pronounce wine?

Lauren Baker, coordinator of the Toronto Food Policy Council, says the government has always played a role in terms of environmental regulation and food safety. Animal production practices are just an extension of that.

"I do think that government has an important role to play in setting standards around how we treat animals, other species, how we treat our environment and in assuring ecological integrity and food safety," she says.

Baker explains that we live in an age when people are becoming increasingly aware of the moral and ethical ramifications of the choices they make. And that when people become aware of ethical issues around the food they eat, local governments can take steps to address those issues.

But Baker says in most cases, she is a firm believer in offering incentives that encourage people to move in a healthier direction, rather than outright banning something. She cites junk food as a prime example of this.

Also see: Canada's Best Sandwich contest winner announced

"We [Toronto Food Policy Council] don't spend any time thinking about how we're going to ban junk food," she says. "We spend a lot of time thinking about how we're going to increase access to healthy food."

"We spend a lot of time thinking about how to diversify choices, and then hopefully people will have an option to make the right healthy choice. But then also, everyone needs a treat, so you can make that choice, too."

Toronto's Fair Trade Towns movement is another good example of making a wide range of choices available to a city, says Baker. These towns seek to make fair trade products more widely available to the community. The global movement counts 15 certified Fair Trade Towns across Canada, all of which must meet certain criteria to be certified.

The idea with Fair Trade Towns is not to force anyone to use Fair Trade products, says Baker, but to make them widely available so consumers have a choice.

Watch the video below to see how to make delicious rosemary beef burgers.

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