August 23, 2006
City Council Foie Gras Ban Challenged
Unconstitutional Ban Costs City $18 million in Lost Business and Tax Revenues
(Chicago, August 22) The Chicago City Council’s ban on restaurant sale of foie gras violates the Illinois constitution, according to a lawsuit filed today. The Illinois Restaurant Association and the Artisan Farmers Alliance estimate the City Council ban will cost the Chicago economy more than $18 million. The Illinois Restaurant Association and Allen’s New American Café, a noted Chicago restaurant, filed the single count lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County this morning. It seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction halting enforcement of the sale ban.
The City Council ban was approved April 26. It takes effect this week.
“We serve hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans daily. We can not have every municipality setting up its own list of menu-appropriate items. We believe the City Council acted without authority,” said Ivan Matsunaga, chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association. “This is also a dollars and cents issue for us. Banning this legally produced item wipes out more than $18 million of restaurant business, tax revenues, tips and related sales. It is a disaster for our customers, our members, our employees and our suppliers,” Colleen McShane, Illinois Restaurant Association president, said. “I am challenging this ban on behalf of all Chicago chefs and our patrons,” Chef Allen Sternweiler said. “The City Council has no business telling adults what they may have for dinner. Local government has no role in banning legal, approved, inspected and regulated food items. If this is allowed, what might be banned next?” The ordinance violates the Illinois Constitution, according to Barry S. Rosen, a partner at Chicago’s Sachnoff & Weaver, which represents the Illinois Restaurant Association and Allen’s New American Café in the suit. Rosen said the Illinois Constitution only permits municipalities to legislate regarding local problems and not activities that are more properly dealt with by other state or local governments. “The issue in this lawsuit is not whether the production of foie gras is or is not humane. The lawsuit is about the bounds of local governmental power,” Rosen said.
“Local governments are empowered under the Illinois constitution to deal with local problems. All of the foie gras sold in Chicago restaurants is lawfully produced in other states or countries. None is produced in Chicago. So, the City Council ban on restaurant sale is not designed to address any local problems, such as how animals are treated in Chicago. Since local governments are empowered by the Illinois Constitution to deal only with local issues, this ordinance is unconstitutional.
“The City Council ban sets a dangerous precedent. Were it to be upheld, any of the thousands of local governmental units in Illinois could prohibit the sale of all types of products that pose no health or safety concerns, just because their legislators disagree with the judgments of legislators elsewhere, who approved the way those products are made. That is not a proper function of local government,” Rosen said. In the last 12 months, Chicago restaurants have sold at least $5.526 million worth of foie gras. With more than 420,000 servings presented in Chicago restaurants, foie gras is ordered in Chicago over 1000 times per day. The estimate of economic impact study finds that Chicago restaurants will lose more than $6.6 million annually because of the City Council Ban. Lost tips for wait staff will be almost $1.2 million, and sales tax lost due to the City Council Ban total more than $1.5 million. Also supporting the lawsuit is the Chicago Chefs for Choice, a newly-formed chapter of the Illinois Restaurant Association, and the Artisan Farmers Alliance, an umbrella group representing all of America’s foie gras farmers, producers and others involved in bringing artisanal agricultural products to the American table. Foie gras, which is French for “fat liver,” refers to a liver from a goose or duck fattened in accordance with a 5000-year-old practice. Foie gras is one of the greatest delicacies in world cuisine because it is very rich and buttery, with an incomparable taste. Foie gras preparation has long been a hallmark of the greatest chefs in the world.