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Chefs celebrate ‘culinary freedom’ as federal judge strikes down California ban on foie gras sales

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Foie gras is back on the menu in California, after a federal judge on Wednesday struck down the state’s controversial law banning the production and sale of the culinary delicacy that comes from the enlarged livers of ducks and geese that have been force-fed corn.

While some California chefs planned to celebrate the return of fatty duck liver, animal rights activists said the state’s hard-fought foie gras battle was far from over.

California’s bill outlawing foie gras passed in 2004 but the ban didn’t go into effect until 2012.

Foie gras producers and restaurants for years have lobbied to remove the ban, which gave rise to underground “Duckeasies” that offered free foie gras or sold it as unlisted menu item.

In their latest legal battle, Canada’s Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec, New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Los Angeles-based Hot’s Restaurant Group argued that California’s sales restriction ran afoul of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

And on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson ruled that the ban was at odds with federal law overseeing the sale and distribution of poultry products.

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“California cannot regulate foie gras products’ ingredients by creatively phrasing its law in terms of the manner in which those ingredients were produced,” Wilson wrote.

“It’s a good day for restaurants,” said Jot Condie, president and chief executive of the California Restaurant Association, a long time foe of the ban. “Turning chefs into criminals is not something we support.”

But Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), predicted that the celebrations could be short lived. HSUS and other animal rights groups vowed to ask California’s attorney general to appeal Wednesday’s ruling.

“The state clearly has the right to ban the sale of the products of animal cruelty,” said Shapiro, who expects the federal appeals court to uphold the law as it did in the previous round of litigation.

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In August 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s foie gras law, rejecting opponents’ assertion that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from interfering with interstate commerce. In October 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal, a move that allowed the ban to stand.

Chef Josiah Citrin of Melisse, one Los Angeles’ top restaurants, has been an outspoken critic of the ban and plans to serve his legal, personal stash of foie gras to diners tonight.

“It’s nice to have some culinary freedom back … I plan to have it on the menu as long as it’s legal,” Citrin said.

The case is Association des Eleveur v. Harris, U.S. District Court Central District of California, No. 2:12-05735

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Additional reporting by Jonatan Stempel in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Chris Reese, Andrew Hay and Bernard Orr)

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New Zealand opens gun buyback after mosque killings

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New Zealand opened a gun buyback scheme Thursday aimed at ridding the country of semi-automatic weapons similar to those used in the Christchurch mosque attacks that killed 51 Muslim worshippers.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed in the hours after the March 15 killings that New Zealand's gun laws would be tightened and her government has expedited the change in just three months.

"The buyback and amnesty has one objective -- to remove the most dangerous weapons from circulation following the loss of life at Al Noor and Linwood mosques," Police Minister Stuart Nash said.

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Greenland ice sheet melting faster than thought: study

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Greenland's ice sheet may have completely melted within the next millennium if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, according to a new study with implications for sea-level rise around the world.

The Greenland ice sheet holds the equivalent of seven meters (yards) of sea level.

"If we continue as usual, Greenland will melt," said lead author Andy Aschwanden, a research associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute.

It is the most recent warning about warming in the world's coldest regions.

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Convicted on all seven counts: US sex cult leader Keith Raniere, attracted the rich and famous

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A US jury on Wednesday convicted a "self-help" guru of racketeering, sex trafficking and other crimes for his leadership of a cult-like organization of sex slaves he branded like cattle.

Keith Raniere, 58, coerced a string of women into having sex with him as the charismatic leader of a life-coaching group he founded in New York state.

Nxivm -- pronounced Nexium -- had proved a huge draw since its 2003 launch, attracting a coterie of rich and famous devotees such as the "Smallville" actress Allison Mack, and spreading into cities across the United States.

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