03/15/2013 06:08 pm ET Updated May 15, 2013

La Toque, Napa Valley Restaurant, Sued By Animal Rights Group For Serving Foie Gras

Move over, PETA. Foie gras has a new enemy in California, and it's ready for a fight.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against Napa Valley's La Toque, alleging that the restaurant has been illegally selling the controversial food despite the statewide ban.

The Fund sent a private investigator into the eatery, who was told he could receive foie gras if he purchased a specific (and expensive) meal on the menu. The group's subsequent lawsuit claims that distributing the dish alongside the meal violates California's ban on the sale or production of foie gras, which officially took effect last July.

But La Toque's owner, Kenneth Frank, maintains that he's done nothing wrong, as it's perfectly legal to consume foie gras inside his restaurant if it isn't purchased.

"You can cook foie gras for people," he told CBS. "People can bring foie gras to me and I can cook it for them. And I can give gifts of foie gras. Simply put, we don't sell foie gras."

The Fund's attorney, John Melia, countered that "it's looking a lot more like a sale than a free gift."

The action against La Toque is just one in a flurry of lawsuits on both sides of the issue that have sprung up since the ban became law. Earlier this month, PETA filed suit against a restaurant in Hermosa Beach for offering foie as a "complimentary side dish."

Meanwhile, opponents of the ban sued the state last year in an effort to have it overturned.

La Toque is one of the few, if any, restaurants left in Northern California offering foie gras to customers through a legal loophole. San Francisco's Txoko, which also gave away the goose liver with the purchase of certain menu items, has since closed. And the Presidio Social Club, whose location on federal land exempts it from the statewide ban, stopped serving the dish after pressure mounted from protesters and local officials.

Proponents of the ban argue that foie gras is derived from a cruel process that involves force-feeding geese and ducks. On the other hand, those who celebrate the food as a delicacy point to the fact that Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, California's sole foie producer, treats its animals humanely.

"This is a group of people with a set of beliefs and they're imposing their beliefs on others," Chef Chris Cosentino, one of the most vocal opponents of the ban, told The Huffington Post last spring. "The minority is telling the majority that we shouldn't eat something. You know what else we shouldn't eat? Ninety-nine-cent hamburgers that are actually hurting people and spreading salmonella in young children."

"But is the solution banning hamburgers?" he continued. "No. It's fixing the system."



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