Playing chicken - Page 3

Activists use protests and a lawsuit to push for better regulation of live poultry sales

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Unlike this chicken, most of the live chickens sold at Heart of the City farmers market have had their beaks cut off

Young has three farms listed on his permit — in Modesto, Sacramento, and Manteca — that he runs with the help of his children and a few employees. Adams has visited his Modesto facility and reported that the chickens are free-range, seem to be in good health, and are treated no differently than they would be at any other farm. She also supported the accusation that the protests undermine cultural norms.

"How can it not be cultural? All their customers are Asian!" she said. "And why is it only the chicken man they harass? There is a guy who sells quail and pheasants and they aren't bothering him."

Zollman, Felsinger, and Gonzalez call that cultural criticism a diversionary tactic. "I don't even want to dignify culture and race as an issue in this," Zollman said. "I understand that people want to buy live chickens. Animal cruelty issues aside, this isn't a live animal market like they have in most of Asia."

Young and Adams stressed that Zollman could not possibly know about operations on the farm, and that his suggestion that the operation is extremely profitable is absurd. "Do you know how hard it is to work on a farm?" asked Young, a single father of three. "You don't make any money except to put food on the table or send your kids to school. And now I have to pay for a lawyer."

 

ARE CHICKENS ANIMALS?

Although the activists oppose factory farms and live animals for sale for human consumption in general, they have focused their attention on the HOC market because it is permitted by the city.

Gonzalez said the lawsuit aims to address three different issues. The first is violating his client's free speech rights by Young and HOC market. The second seeks to compel the city to better identify and enforce alleged health code violations. The third and trickiest aspect deals with animal cruelty laws, which the activists hope will force more humane treatment of the birds.

Penal Code 597 outlines animal cruelty provisions, defining the word "animal" as "frogs, turtles, and birds sold for human consumption, with the exception of poultry." That law was adopted in the early 1900s. Elsewhere the code defines animals as "every dumb creature." But in 2000, the Fourth District California Court of Appeals analyzed the section and deemed that the definition should include birds.

But Gonzalez and ACC say city officials have allowed the poultry exemption to stick. "[The law] refers to live animals and makes a specific exemption for poultry," Rebecca Katz, director of the Department of Animal Care and Control, told us. "I would venture to guess that poultry lobby was very strong at that time."

The ACC, prompted by the protests, inspected Young's facilities and cited him for 700 different violations, according to the lawsuit. Katz mentioned a few instances in which they observed chickens suffering to the point where they had to be euthanized. But most of the citations were for inadequate water supply or holding birds improperly.

"A lot of people eat animals for food, and that's what it is," Katz said. "I'm not a vegetarian, but the way they are being kept is not the way we would recommend they be cared for. Do we think there is some cruelty? Probably. But there is nothing we can do at this time until the law changes."

Like his predecessors, newly appointed District Attorney George Gascón seems to believe that chickens are not protected by state law, regardless of perceived cruel treatment.

"To date, our position has been that there is a clear exception under the law for live poultry being sold for human consumption," said Gascón spokesperson Erica Derryck. "As much as it appears that the treatment of these animals is inhumane, there is nothing we can do to prosecute these allegations under the current laws in California."

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