Richmond bans the sale of live chickens

Hen chicken

photo by Thegreenj, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The City Council voted Tuesday to prohibit the sale of live chickens at the Richmond’s Certified Farmer’s Market, igniting an eruption of cheers from animal rights supporters who filled City Hall.

The crowd, which consisted mostly of visitors to Richmond, was there on a larger animal-rights agenda, fueled by a recent victory in banning live chicken sales at the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market in San Francisco. Despite the determination of supporters, the ban will affect only one vendor at Richmond’s Farmer’s Market, and then only for two months.

The ban will take effect October 31, when the Richmond Certified Farmer’s Market contract is due for renewal. The state of California is banning the sale of live animals in parking lots and on sidewalks beginning in 2012. Though there was some confusion over the state’s legislation, Richmond City Attorney Randy Riddle assured the council that the ban will include poultry.

“When we know that in January this will be banned, my position is such that, let us get comfortable with the contract that is inline with what we know will be state law coming up very soon,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said.

The live-chicken vendor, Raymond Young, has had repeated public confrontations in San Francisco with two of the groups present Tuesday night: LBGT Compassion Group and In Defense of Animals. In Richmond, the groups said they found the same health code violations and animal cruelty instances that they found at Young’s previous operation in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s ban left Richmond as the sole city in the Bay Area where Young could sell live chickens. He sells about 700 birds a week at the Richmond Certified Farmer’s Market, according to the market’s president, Tom Cloman.

Live animal sales are allowed, but not within 20 feet of produce and eggs, according to the California health code. Violations occur whenever a customer buys a chicken, which Young and his workers put into paper and plastic bags, and the customer then walks around the market shopping for produce.

The health regulation exists to prevent feces, which carries bacterial disease, from spreading through the farmer’s market. The public is directly exposed to feces on the outside of the plastic bags and on the workers, said Andrew Zollman of the LGBT Compassion Group, and the feces is then carried around the market and onto public transit.

According to the code, signs must be posted instructing customers in three languages – English, Spanish, and Chinese – not to walk around the market after they have purchased the chickens.

But it’s a difficult rule to enforce and requires extra resources from city.

“We can’t fix the this problem, it’s impossible,” said Denise Bolbol in the public comment session. “I watched multiple security guards unable to keep these people 20 feet from other vendors with chickens in their bags.”

Though the chicken-vendor Young has received several environmental health code violations at Richmond, he has corrected his violations prior to the next inspection every time, said LaShonda Wilson, the assistant city manager. Cloman, the market manager, confirmed this in his brief objection to the prohibition.

Pathogens and disease were also a common theme in the argument against selling live chickens. A statewide surveillance program that conducts health inspections on chickens “that are spotty” only checks for Avian influenza and Newcastle virus, and does not check for bacterial infections, Wilson said.

Due to lack of resources, the state has given Young kits to test the chickens himself and then requires him to submit the results to the state. Animal rights supporters said they didn’t trust his reporting.

The LGBT Compassion group has questioned Young’s credibility before, arguing that he is not actually involved in raising the chickens, but instead buys them from large producers such as Gemperle Farms. Since these farms are fully automated, Zollman said, Young couldn’t possibly be doing any of his own farming.

One concern, said Councilmember Jeff Ritterman, is that selling factory-farmed chickens at a farmer’s market misleads the consumer into thinking the chicken is organic.

Though he agreed that factory farming was disturbing, Councilmember Tom Butt said that it is important for children to see where their food comes from, which was the primary reason that he didn’t vote to support the ban.

“Most people don’t know where food comes from,” Butt said. “They think it comes from the grocery store. I think it does people good to see where food comes from, to realize that that chicken breast comes from an animal with feathers on it and it doesn’t come from a package.”

The ban is an act of discrimination, Cloman said, which is the same argument brought against the animal rights groups in San Francisco by Young.

“These groups have literally pounded this Asian farmer to run him out of business,” Cloman said.

Cloman barely got through his argument when his public comment time ran out and the crowd loudly interrupted and hurried him off the podium.

Over the yells of the crowd, Cloman turned to the council. “Don’t let this group bully you,” he said, his voice barely audible.

Cloman found his only other support from a dissenter in the crowd who labeled the issue one of meat-eaters versus vegetarians.

The dozens who had come out to speak against Young had already been protesting Richmond’s Certified Farmer’s Market, and had bombarded Mayor McLaughlin with 1,015 emails.

The City Council’s ban will only be effective for two months – starting October 31, when the contract is redrawn, and ending in 2012, when the state laws override the council. McLaughlin said she didn’t want the city to spend valuable resources on this issue, even for two months.

“I certainly believe that our staff will have to continue to monitor this and I do not think this is good use of our staff’s time over the next two months,” McLaughin said.

“I am torn,” Councilmember Jovanka Beckles said. While she said she didn’t necessarily agree with the animal rights’ groups, she agreed that the city needs to allocate its valuable resources to other issues.

The final vote was 4-2. It was hard to hear the announcement of the votes over the roar of excitement from the ban’s supporters, but with Councilmember Nat Bates absent, Butt and Councilmember Corky Booze were the only voters against the prohibition.

3 Comments

  1. Edwin

    Save those chickens, save the 100 trees, save tuna fishes and save this world. And If it were possible, put God on trial, for killing those animals to cover Adam and Eve, because he started all this…

  2. Don Gosney

    Wouldn’t the world be too dull to live in if we couldn’t go around without placing labels on people? I rise to speak against people from other communities coming into Richmond telling us what we can and cannot do and all of a sudden I’m labeled as a “dissenter”? Had their been more of “us” than “them”, which would have been labeled the dissenters?

    I also have to appreciate how my verbal and written comments were so easily condensed into just a ‘meat-eater’ versus ‘veg head’ comparison. Had I know this beforehand I could have saved myself the time and trouble of saying so many other words.

    There were good arguments made for both sides of this issue but I would have to disagree with Councilmember Ritterman’s suggestion that people might have been misled into thinking these were organically raised chickens. Keeping in mind the people that were purchasing the 700 or so chickens per day in this market–mostly ethnic Hispanics and Asians–I’m not sure they had any expectations that there was anything special about these chickens. Had this been Marin County (where so many of the speakers live) or even Bezerkeley, then maybe that expectation would be realistic but not in Richmond. Just my opinion.

    I’m pleased that the article at least mentions how this seems to have been a personal issue against this farmer/rancher. After the vote some of the interlopers were bragging about how they had shut him down in San Francisco, they had shut him down in Oakland and now they had shut him down in Richmond. Not that they had stopped the selling of live chickens but that they had shut HIM down. Of course, during their admonitions to the Council they told them about the “thugs” he had working for him and they even accused his young daughter of stealing from them. One of the speakers was abundantly clear that this was personal for him.

    I’m disappointed, though, that there was no mention in this article about the one young woman who spoke out that half of the chickens sold were found in ditches alongside the roads obviously killed as part of a Santeria ritual. She also told the Council that most of the people who purchased the chickens don’t even live in Richmond. I’m wondering how she might know this unless she and her group stalked the patrons and followed them home.

    Ain’t Richmond grand? Barnum and Bailey’s got nothing on Richmond.

    Oh, and for the record, I buy my chickens at KFC–original recipe.

    • Don:

      The number of locals speaking in support of a ban outnumbered the speakers against. And Mr. Young himself (who didn’t even bother to speak) is far from local, living in Modesto – his only interest in Richmond is to make a lot of cash money, subsidized by its taxpayers’ money. Mayor McLaughlin referenced a city employee who complained (who also talked with me at the market), and many other locals told us they hated having the chickens there and would complain. The rest of us don’t have to live at the exact place where animals are being abused and the public exposed to dangerous pathogens from factory-farmed animal feces, to be concerned about it or to exercise our rights to protest against it.

      The “700″ number came from Mr. Young’s statement during a 2009 Council meeting, when the City had previously decided to ban live bird sales due to public complaints (before we started our Richmond campaign). In fact, in recent time sales have been around 100-150 per day due to protests – similarly, his sales in San Francisco dropped from 1,000 to appx. 300 before its ban. The ban on sales affects very few people at this point.

      Raymond is not the only target, and he never operated in Oakland. We shut down New Longs Live Poultry illegally operating in a residential zone across from the Alemany Blvd. market (which already prohibited live animal sales and was having problems with the health violations created by people bringing birds into the market), and Bullfeathers Quail in both San Francisco and Old Oakland (which only took a quick investigation and a meeting with the manager, as it should).

      It didn’t become personal until Mr. Young’s workers/daughters started making anti-gay/HIV comments, throwing feces, wet socks and dirty water at us, and punched Alex in the face (leaving permanent injury) and stole his camera. This necessitated a lawsuit against him and the Heart of the City Farmers’ market (you can read it here http://webaccess.sftc.org/Scripts/Magic94/mgrqispi94.dll?APPNAME=IJS&PRGNAME=ROA22&ARGUMENTS=-ACGC11507626)

      The fact that it became personal doesn’t change the other problems with his operation, and thugs like them should not be benefiting from taxpayer money.

      As for Santeria ritual sacrifice, the woman did not say “one-half” and did not say “ditches.” (You can re-watch the meeting online at the City’s website.) S.F.’s Animal Care and Control told me that they were having a problem with small children finding mutilated chicken corpses in parks, victims of illegal Santeria ritual sacrifice (I had a roommate who practiced Santeria, and know this is common). In fact, yesterday’s Contra Costa Times story http://www.contracostatimes.com/bay-area-news/ci_19014125?source=rss includes an interview with a woman who says she buys them for ritual sacrifice.

      It’s logical to conclude that many customers are not Richmond residents – it’s the only Bay Area farmers’ market selling live chickens and is easy to get to. In San Francisco, it was clear that many (if not most) of the customers were from other cities – especially some who were buying 50-100 and told us they were for restaurants.

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