A federal court in California has decided that some consumer-fraud claims brought by an animal rights group and a company that makes vegan faux foie gras against Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG) over statements that the defendant’s product is “the humane choice” may proceed. Animal Legal Def. Fund v. HVFG, L.L.C., No. 12-5809 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., order entered April 12, 2013). While California prohibits the production of foie gras, which involves forcefeeding ducks, the law does not prevent out-of-state producers, such as New York-based HVFG, from marketing in the state or shipping its product there.
While the court reportedly acknowledged that a definition for “humane” is “hard to pin down,” it found that the plaintiffs might be able to prove use of the term by HVFG false if the production process is shown to cause ducks an undue amount of pain. The court dismissed the Animal Legal Defense Fund from the lawsuit for lack of standing, but allowed the claims of Regal Vegan, an HVFG competitor, to proceed. According to the court, “A theoretical educational competition for the ‘hearts and minds’ of consumers is insufficient to give [the animal rights group] Lanham Act standing. No re-pleading could cure this deficiency.” Although dismissed from the suit, the Animal Legal Defense Fund hailed the ruling as a “landmark victory.”
Meanwhile, the organization reportedly filed a lawsuit in March against a Napa Valley restaurant, claiming that it was continuing to sell foie gras to patrons by referring it as a “gift.” La Toque executive chef Ken Frank noted that similar litigation filed by a different group failed in 2012; the restaurant randomly gives foie gras to La Toque diners on a daily basis, but neither lists it on the menu nor charges for it. Another animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is reportedly threatening to sue two Orange County restaurants that also provide foie gras to customers “for free” with the purchase of a $55 glass of Sauternes. PETA’s counsel was quoted as saying, “If you order a side salad, and it’s listed as a salad, and you get tomatoes, nobody thinks you’re getting free tomatoes. If it’s part of a dish which he is charging money for, it’s a sale, it’s a transaction and it’s prohibited.” See Napa Valley Register, March 15, 2013; Animal Legal Defense Fund News Release, April 12, 2013; Courthouse News Service, April 16, 2013; NYDailyNews.com, April 17, 2013.