A political official in southern France is urging the nation's restaurants to stop serving California wines in response to the U.S. state's ban on foie gras.
California banned the sale and production of the French delicacy, a fatty goose or duck liver made by force-feeding the animals, under a law that took effect July 1. Most restaurants in the state have removed the item from their menus.
"I call on all the restaurants in France that sell Californian wine to stop doing so in a show of solidarity for our foie gras makers and, more broadly, for all food makers," said Philippe Martin, the president of the general council in the Gers department, near the Pyrenees mountains.
The Gers, in the heart of Gascony, is an agricultural area known for goose foie gras. France produces more than 16,000 tons of foie gras annually, or two-thirds of the product sold globally, according to Mirepoix USA, a Reno, Nevada-based online foie gras retailer. The French consume 75 percent of the world production.
"This won't have severe impact on the Gers region trade balance, let alone the French trade, or the California trade balance, but we had to send a strong signal because we think this is an unfair measure," Martin said yesterday in a telephone interview.
California produced 90 percent of the $1.4 billion in U.S. wine exports in 2011, according to the Wine Institute, a San Francisco-based trade group. Little is exported to France, said Terry Hall, a spokesman for Napa Valley Vintners, a St. Helena, California-based group representing 430 wineries.
"There's not going to be a lot of California wine to boycott," Hall said. "France is a major producer. They're not keen on a lot of imports, especially from California."
France was the second-largest exporter of wines to the U.S. behind Italy in 2011, according to the Commerce Department. French wine imports reached $253.5 million in the first quarter of this year.
"Why would you take it out on the wine industry, especially when Americans are an incredible supporter of the French wine market?" Hall said.
This is not the first time that politics has intruded on culinary relations between the two nations. In 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives responded to France's opposition to the invasion of Iraq by renaming the French fries served in its cafeteria, calling them "Freedom Fries."
In California, the foie gras ban is pitting chefs against animal-rights activists. Restaurateurs say no one should dictate what people may eat, while the activists, who encouraged enactment of the law, say force-feeding the animals through a tube in their esophagus is cruel.
Those violating the ban are subject to a fine of as much as $1,000 for each day it continues. Still, municipal police departments and animal-control agencies, which are responsible for enforcing the law, have expressed little interest in issuing citations.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a New York-based producer, Hot's Restaurant Group Inc., which owns two restaurants in the Los Angeles area, and Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d'Oies du Quebec, a Canadian non-profit representing foie gras producers, sued on July 2 to block enforcement. They argue that restaurants and distributors who sell duck products can't know how the fowl was fed and whether it was forced.