On the chopping block in Oakland

Deregulating urban animal farming would create problems that multiply as livestock increases

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What exactly is on the chopping block in Oakland these days? If one proposal goes through, it could be a live animal's neck.

Oakland recently called for public input to clarify the urban agriculture language in its planning code. There are questions about the legality of activities such as growing and selling veggies from your urban farm, which could serve our community with nutritious, local, sustainable food. The current code is unclear on the legality of many of these things, so clarifying it to allow people to grow healthy, sustainable food is a positive step forward for the city's fight against food insecurity.

One small catch.

Among other things in a 73-page report titled "Transforming the Oakland Food System" is a proposal to deregulate raising and slaughtering animals. No distinction is made between urban plant farming and urban animal farming — but the difference between the two is as blatant as the sound each respective product makes when you chop its head off.

Deregulating urban animal farming would create problems that multiply as the population of animals being farmed increases. Consider the most popular animal kept among the new wave of backyard egg farmers: the laying hen.

A backyard chicken spends its first days in a factory farm hatchery, where it is packed up with other chickens and shipped to the buyer in a box with no food or water. About half the chicks are male, and thus worthless to a backyard chicken hobbyist. Many end up at Oakland Animal Services, where they are euthanized.

New chicken hobbyists are often surprised that veterinary bills for a single chicken can average $300 a year if ailments are treated properly rather than ignored. These "free" eggs now are very expensive. Chicken food and poop attracts rodents, which causes complaints to the Health Department. After two years, the hen is "spent" and no longer gives eggs. And what to do with Chicken Little when she stops laying?

Picture a warm Saturday afternoon in mid-May. You are sitting on a lawn chair unwinding from a long week at work. Then you are jolted out of your chair — your lemonade spilling down the front of your shirt.

It's the sound of a hen on the other side of the fence suffering a botched hatchet job. "Squaaaawwwkkk!" Welcome to Oakland — the slaughterhouse with glass walls.

According to according to a 2006 Oakland Food System Assessment by the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, approximately 9,000 acres are needed to feed 30 percent of Oakland's population using vegetable-based farming. But once you include urban meat with your veggie garden, the land needed to feed that same 30 percent of Oakland residents explodes to 19,000 acres. So if all our potential land can only provide 30 percent of our food, do we really need to create more meat, eggs and dairy?

Chickens, goats and rabbits make great companions. But for growing sustainable, local and organic food, let's tell Oakland loud and clear: think about chard instead. 

Ian Elwood is an animal rescuer and volunteers with Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, the Central Valley Chapter of House Rabbit Society and is a former volunteer at Oakland Animal Services. He also works a day job as web producer at International Rivers.

 

Comments

Thanks for adding this perspective, Oakland needs to represent all of it constituents. This includes people who have animals as companions, who support local businesses such as veterinarians and pet stores and public agencies like the animal shelter.

Posted by Ian Elwood on May. 25, 2011 @ 10:39 am

I have seven cats, who came from animal shelters when they didn't come straight from the street, and I support local business such as veterinarians.

I also look forward to raising my own chickens and other livestock. And I am married to a woman who was raised on a farm, who now works at an animal-friendly local business - an urban farm store.

People who want to raise their own animals for food don't want to torture the animals or the neighbors. The entire point of the urban farming movement is sustainability. People put a tremendous amount of energy into learning how to raise animals in a humane, sustainable way. People who are raising animals for meat also put a huge, huge amount of energy into finding out what the humane way of killing them is.

If we need (more) widescale community education about that, then by all means let's create it. If we need city-wide regulations about how backyard animals are raised in order to prevent the spread of disease, noise, smell, whatever, then we should have them.

But I don't see any evidence that we need to ban raising animals for livestock. In all the comments I've read here - which I acknowledge is not all five pages - and in this article, and in the petition, all I have seen on the "pro" side of banning them is a lot of hypothetical descriptions that boil down to "people could be killing animals in an inhumane way, possibly, and you don't want that do you?!" Fiddlesticks.

Posted by Danica Stone on Jun. 09, 2011 @ 7:58 am

There are laws against animal cruelty.
As long as they are not violated, it's none of your business how your neighbors feed themselves.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2011 @ 8:34 pm
yum

Sweet! Is it okay if I engage in cannibalism?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

Bugs are higher in protein and much less noisy. You can just pop them into your mouth and nom nom nom.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 8:32 am

* And who is going to enforce these laws?
More city employees? That means more taxes.

* And how are they going to enforce these laws?
Go door to door to backyard looking for animals? Keep a database?

The Oakland Animal Shelter is already understaffed and already gets way too many cats and dogs. Animals are routinely euthanized due to lack of room. When people get tired of their backyard animal experiment or these animals get sick, they will end up at the shelter or get dumped in local parks. This will increase pressure on the city shelter and city finances.
The end result is that some poseur hipsters who want to raise their own meat will cost the city more money.

Novella Carpenter commented in her own blog that it cost $25 to raise a rabbit. An average dressed rabbit is perhaps 5 lbs.
I can buy a whole dressed 5 lb chicken for $5 within 10 minutes walk of her property. It makes no sense from any economic model to raise your own animals for meat.

Novella Carpenter wrote in her blog that she had rats, wild dogs, and possums because of her animals. She wrote how she beat a possum to death with a shovel. The city should not have to deal with rats and other vermin. Oakland is a highly urbanized and congested area. It is not the countryside.

I have lived in Oakland for the last 30 years and do not want a next door neighbor raising pigs, goats, rabbits, chickens, or any other animals.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 04, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

The point is that the existing laws against animal cruelty will simply not be enforceable on a household by household basis and this will result in widespread animal abuse.

And there are equally important public health, environmental, and poor resource use issues that are also be created by backyard meat farming.

This is a really bad idea that should be stopped.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jun. 09, 2011 @ 9:12 am

Actually the animal cruelty laws would be largely inadequate to protect the interests of animals raised for food in the urban core. Also, since Oakland is completely overstretched, enforcement would be near impossible.

Posted by Ian Elwood on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:29 am

Oakland can't afford this Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto trendy locovore crap. we have real problems

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

Currently slaughter is illegal in the city of Oakland, yet Animal Control already responds to hundreds of nuisance complaints for "livestock" animals and houses countless abandoned and escaped goats, chickens, geese, quail, pigeons, et ceterra.
Even if the city derregulated livstock rearing in the city, it would still be illegal to sell or barter the meat (unless it is driven to slaughter at a USDA approved slaughter house). Yet the Alameda County Department of Public Health already has to deal with these issues.
This is a city code issue. The city code should be used to aleviate stress on city services and all the neighbors and taxpayers who are not interested in engaging in slaughter.

Posted by Emily Wood on May. 25, 2011 @ 10:57 am

There is no law prohibiting eating your own livestock in Oakland. Go ahead, look for yourself: http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=16308&stateId=5&stateNam...

There have not been "hundreds" of calls. It surprises me that Oakland Animal Control is paying to house countless abandoned pigeons. Is that the best use of public funds?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

Municipal Code 8.40.080 - Offensive places and occupations. It is unlawful for any person to establish or maintain any slaughterhouse, to keep any hog, to cure or keep hides, skins or peltry, to slaughter cattle, sheep or any other kind of animal, to pursue, maintain or carry on any other business or occupation offensive to the senses or prejudicial to the public health or comfort, within the limits of the city.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

Slaughterhouse as a business or occupation is the key there. Raising and killing your own livestock for food is neither a slaughterhouse, business or occupation. So you are misquoting the law but it has the dramatic effect I suppose you are looking for.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

I understand your desire to find some sort of legal backing for your position, but it just isn't there. The Municode clearly lays out the conditions and places where animals are permitted to be slaughtered, and clearly prohibits exceptions. Sales are unrelated to this definition.

Make no mistake: this proposal would mark a radical shift from existing Oakland law, and your effort to misrepresent existing law as already permitting backyard slaughter is just false.

Posted by rick on May. 26, 2011 @ 9:45 am

The Oakland law neither permits nor prohibits slaughter for personal consumption. The specific term "slaughterhouse" refers to a place of business. That is the law, "rick."

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 7:02 am

The whole reason Oakland is calling for public comment is that the laws are antiquated. Guess what. People make the law.

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

why the quotation marks? People have called me that for a while. It's not very mysterious ... "Guest."

Posted by just wondering on May. 27, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

no reason to slaughter animals. grow some healthy food instaed

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

Oakland's municipal code lays it out pretty clearly, that possession is just as pertinent as "selling": 8.14 MEAT

1. You cannot have in your possession for human consumption or sale the flesh of farmed animals you have slaughtered, unless the animal has been slaughtered in a federally or state inspected slaughterhouse. Your backyard does not comply. (8.14.010)
2. You cannot have in your possession for human consumption or sale the flesh of farmed animals who have not been branded or inspected by one of the organizations listed. The random calf, lamb, kid, or chicken you buy at auction lacks that requirement. (8.14.020)
3. You cannot "manufacture, slaughter or sell" the body parts of any farmed animal unless you get a Meat Permit. This requires inspection by the health department and a lengthy, often expensive process. (8.14.030).

And that last one, along with the issue of zoning, is the reason why one farmer is spearheading a campaign to allow any individual to raise and slaughter an animal in their backyard - because it's cost-prohibitive and difficult to get a meat permit to do so currently.

Posted by Marji on May. 28, 2011 @ 8:38 am

Marji, you rewrote the language. Your creative interpretation does not make it true or enforceable. Code 8.14.010 states:
"8.14.010 - Supervision of meat preparation.

It is unlawful for any person to sell, have in possession, keep or expose for sale for human food, the flesh of any cattle, hogs, sheep, swine, goats, rabbits, or any other animal, poultry, fish, or meat food products, unless the same shall have been slaughtered or passed under the supervision of the United States Government Inspector, in accordance with the regulations relating to the inspection thereof as prescribed by the Department of Agriculture of the United States, or under the supervision of the state of California, Department of Agriculture Inspector, in accordance with the regulations relating to the inspection thereof as prescribed by the Department of Agriculture of the state of California, or under the supervision of the Health Officer of the city of Oakland, in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. "

This applies to the practices of sales. In fact, each one of the codes you summarized applies strictly to meat for sale. Not what you raise for personal consumption. If this were the case, it would be illegal to possess fish from a fishing trip. That is definitely not the law in Oakland.
http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=16308&stateId=5&stateNam...

Posted by Guest on May. 28, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

Numbers were released for the past three years via a freedom of information act request and can be found online, if you wish. These aren't claims, but facts.

And yes, abandoned domestic pigeons go to Oakland Animal Services. It is the end of the line for all abandoned animals in the city and turns none away. If animals are strays, they must be held for 10 days in order to allow for the owner to reclaim -- even if you think that a pigeon has no right to live or be treated with respect by the city, this means it takes up a cage that could otherwise be used by a cat or small dog.

Posted by Emily Wood on May. 25, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

If numbers can be found online, then link to them.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:05 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

"Animal Control already responds to hundreds of nuisance complaints for "livestock" animals "

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

Thank you for the speadsheet. Its important to view it. Most of the "livestock" listed are fighting roosters. Not the same as the livestock that are being kept by people growing/raising their own food. Fighting roosters have been an issue in Oakland for years, way before any food culture movement.

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 7:16 am

Emily Wood: please point out the "hundreds of nuisance complaints for "livestock" animals "

You appear to have misled people with your false claims.

Posted by Guest on May. 28, 2011 @ 10:35 am

"We, the city, are being used as a blunt tool, a hammer, in another debate - whether or not rabbits are food,"
Eric Angstadt, Oakland planning director.

Emily Wood of North Oakland... complained about Carpenter's farm to the Oakland City Council. "I would like to stop animal suffering in factory farms and in my neighbor's backyard.
But I have a lot more power over my neighbor's backyard."
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/08/BA7O1J74O5.DTL

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 8:20 am

"We, the city, are being used as a blunt tool, a hammer, in another debate - whether or not rabbits are food,"
Eric Angstadt, Oakland planning director.

Emily Wood of North Oakland... complained about Carpenter's farm to the Oakland City Council. "I would like to stop animal suffering in factory farms and in my neighbor's backyard.
But I have a lot more power over my neighbor's backyard."
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/08/BA7O1J74O5.DTL

Your petition seems to have very few signatures from people living in Oakland.
Rather, it appears to have captured the attention of vegans and extremist animal rights activists from other places, some not even in the U.S.

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

Max Allstadt has a history of making personal attacks that defame and libel individuals to further his political goals.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

I didn't post that!

Posted by Max Allstadt on May. 29, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

"As long as [the laws against animal cruelty are not violated, it is none of your business how your neighbors feed themselves."

Actually, it is. For two reasons:
1) Given the logistical impossibility of supervising hundreds of backyard slaughterhouses, particularly given Oakland's already massively stretched resources, I have absolutely no faith that public health codes or animal cruelty laws will be respected. Though theoretically these laws would be maintained and enforced, practically speaking we will have no ways to verify or penalized violations of these codes. There just aren't enough code enforcers. Also, there are high odds that the people undertaking said animal slaughter are not professionals: many will have learned how to do this on the internet, through books, where-ever. While their interest in their own food system is commendable, I personally don't have faith in my neighbors' animal slaughter skills.

2) It *is* my business, because these are residential neighborhoods in an urbanized area, so I am living in *very* close proximity to what would be at best an annoyance (sound, smell, etc), and at worst a health hazard. This higher density is why zoning in urbanized areas has to be stricter than zoning in agricultural areas: to ensure that I don't have to bear unreasonable burdens for you doing your thing, so that we can all live happily, or at least peacefully in such close proximity. This is why you can't locate a dog kennel in the middle of a residential neighborhood, or a pre-k next door to a Chemical Manufacturer. What my neighbor does, if it affects me and my ability to enjoy my space, is most definitely my business.

Posted by Nina on May. 25, 2011 @ 11:34 am

Ever heard the expression "Don't name food"? That's a piece of rural wisdom often passed on to youngsters who are raising animals through 4H or similar programs. The problem is that when you name an animal -- in other words, when you start treating it as a companion -- you are reluctant to later send it off to slaughter, which is the usual fate of animals on farms, even the ones that win ribbons at the fair.

We humans are weak that way: if something becomes a part of our family, we usually don't kill it.

It turns out that works in the city, too. Most people who have backyard chickens end up treating those chickens much more like pets than like infinitely replaceable egg-laying machines. They get cute little names: Euphemia, Nancy, Chantelle, and so on. The owners swear they have different personalities. (Though, really, chickens? Come on.) Kids, especially, are wont to form attachments to the things. What happens when those chickens stop laying? You sure as heck don't tell your kids, "I'm sorry, children, but Rachel has stopped laying eggs, and now she must die."

There's actually some research that starts to gets at this question. A DePaul University class surveyed 20 cities around the country with urban chicken ordinances and got back almost universally positive responses: https://docs.google.com/View?id=ajjvmhftztww_158dnh8gngx&pli=1 . One important note, found near the bottom: it seems that most chicken owners aren't killing their birds after they stop laying. I'm not claiming that this is exhaustive research, but I don't think it's off the mark.

There may be good reasons to not adopt the Food Policy Council's urban ag ordinances (maybe), but this surely isn't one. The claim of "every back yard an abattoir!" is a silly argument that shouldn't carry any weight.

More broadly, though, Ian's op-ed completely mischaracterizes what it is the Food Policy Council is recommending. This would not "deregulate the raising and slaughter of animals." It would, in fact, _regulate_ those activities quite specifically, expressing in a way that is much clearer than current City code what people could and could not do with animals grown for consumption.

I see above some concerns about enforcement. For the most part, the city already operates on a complaint basis for code enforcement (required building inspection being a notable exception). If a neighbor -- or even a non-neighbor, as appears to have been the case with Ghost Town Farm -- has a problem, they complain. The City -- not flawlessly, but usually pretty well -- then follows up. The urban farm ordinance wouldn't change that.

Also, see again that DePaul survey that showed an extremely low number of complaints coming out of chicken ordinances around the country. That might change if suddenly every other house in Oakland had a herd of goats out back, but that's just not going to happen.

Ian says in a comment above that Oakland should "represent all of its constituents." A government never represents all of its constituents. When policy is made, there are winners and losers; laws and regulations can't exist in all configurations at once.

Of course, that's not actually what Ian wants. He wants the City Council to make a decision at the behest of a tiny minority.

I think the vegans are fighting the wrong fight. People consume animal products -- yes, Virginia, even here in Oakland. The City Council isn't going to change that with the adoption of any ordinance. So the question for the Council isn't "Will Oaklanders consume animal products?"

It's "What can our city do to improve the sustainability of its food system?" Put another way, "What can we do to mitigate the environmental consequences of the inevitable consumption of animal products and other foods?" The urban agriculture ordinance is one positive answer to that question.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

Factory farms will not miraculously disappear if we start raising animals in cities. You said, "We humans are weak that way: if something becomes a part of our family, we usually don't kill it."

Expanding your circle of empathy is not a weakness.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

I find it amazing to the point of being unbelievable that you did not see that my "we usually don't kill it" was tongue-in-cheek. I am not advocating the murder of family members, feathered, furry, or otherwise.

Now, regarding factory farms: I see you've built yourself a nice little straw man to attack. I do understand the attraction. They're much easier to knock down than real arguments.

At no point did I say that factory farms would "disappear" (through miraculous or other means) if the urban ag recommendations are adopted into code. Neither, I think you'll find, have any of the advocates for the ordinance made any such claim. Oakland is one mid-sized city in a big ol' world. I said "mitigate environmental impacts," not "build a better unicorn pasture over by the rainbow fairy garden."

Nobody is pitching as the panacea for all the ills of our food system. You don't get to pretend that we are in order to make bad arguments against it.

What else you got?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

Add one more logical fallacy to your list. The false dichotomy is that the choice is people eating meat from their backyard garden or staving to death. People without access to healthy food need more fruits and vegetables in their diets. Focus on that.

Adding more animal products to the food shed will do nothing to reduce diabetes, heart disease or obesity.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

Go ahead, do your plant thing!

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

You are right about the access to fresh fruits and vegetables needed by urban poor. It's so much cheaper and more filling to buy a couple of $.50 boxes of mac & cheese than a pound of zucchini. Imagine, all that excess summer zucchini going to good use. On the other hand, the meat raised in backyards tends to be on the lean side (chicken, rabbits, geese), not pork or beef.

Americans are obese and full of diabetes and heart disease because a cheeseburger cost $2.00 and a salad is like $6.00. If you are on a limited budget what are you going to choose?

Posted by chelsea on May. 26, 2011 @ 7:43 am

1.
" I have absolutely no faith that public health codes or animal cruelty laws will be respected."

So your solution is more laws and codes?
There is no logic whatsoever to your argument.
Your energy would be better spent lobbying for enforcement of already existing laws, especially since most of your neighbors would agree with you that health codes and animal cruelty laws should be enforced.

2.
There are also many laws already in place to protect your right to peaceful enjoyment of your home, and to protect you from noise and smells like loud parties, burning garbage, etc.
These more than address your concerns for residential neighborhoods.
"health hazard"?
While you made sure to compare someone raising a goat or a couple of chickens to a "Chemical Manufacturer", you forgot to specify which "health hazards" you fear. How are these "health hazards" different from the ones you already face from your neighbors keeping dogs, cats, rats, snakes, rabbits and so on?

Raising an animal to feed one's family is no more a "backyard slaughterhouse" than screen printing a t-shirt in your home transforms the home into a clothing manufacturing company.

Could you please explain in plain language, absent ridiculous comparisons and emotionally charged rhetoric, why you favor restricting your neighbors' ability to feed themselves in an affordable and healthy fashion?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

Chicken from a fast food restaurant and organic backyard chicken meat have the same negative impacts on the epidemics of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

If you're not able to organize a coherent statement, why bother?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

It's coherent.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 7:20 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

You said, "restricting your neighbors' ability to feed themselves in an affordable and healthy fashion."

I said, "Chicken from a fast food restaurant and organic backyard chicken meat have the same negative impacts on the epidemics of heart disease, diabetes and obesity."

Add to that the fact that backyard chicken meat is more expensive per pound, by a longshot.

What isn't clear?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:23 pm

I don't know why I bother.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

Because, in your opinion, eating chicken is not a healthy choice for them, and you also get to decide how much they should pay for food?
That is just arrogant and weird.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

This is a public health issue regarding policy. No one is suggesting dietary recommendations, but a policy to reinforce an infrastructure for healthy eating.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 8:34 am

""Chicken from a fast food restaurant and organic backyard chicken meat have the same negative impacts on the epidemics of heart disease, diabetes and obesity."

Add to that the fact that backyard chicken meat is more expensive per pound, by a longshot."

Where is the proof of this?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:19 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 8:58 am

One huge difference between having pets and raising animals to be slaughtered is the number of animals involved. Take another example more appropriate than silk screening: Someone can have a few of their kid's friends over routinely after school and it doesn't cause a nuisance for me. If they decide to start running a day care and have several dozen kids over every afternoon, that becomes a nuisance. It's going to impact my ability to work from home and potentially impact my ability to sell or rent out my property if I decide to move.

Forget about where anyone stands on the issue of eating meat. For those of you reading this who are not in the very small minority of people who want to raise and kill animals in your home ask yourself this: Do you want to have dozens of animals living next door to you? Would you be ok with someone opening an animal sanctuary or a breeding operation and having dozens of animals living right next to you in Oakland? What about the stereotypical obsessive cat lover who has 50 cats? Hell maybe I should open a petting zoo at my house. How would that affect your property value?

We already don't tolerate people having lots of animals in a residence. There are already drivers that motivate people to do it anyway and it's a damned nuisance. There's no way someone can raise a significant amount of meat for themselves without having animals in number or size that would be a nuisance in most of Oakland's more densely packed neighborhoods.

And for those of you who want to commune with the earth and have mystical celebrations about how wonderful producing your own food is, why don't you get together with each other and buy a farm in an appropriate part of Nor Cal to cooperatively raise animals for slaughter. Don't do it in the city.

The rest of us are trying to make money, provide for our families, put gas in our tanks, pay our taxes, live our lives... If it's so important to you to raise and slaughter animals, move to Grass Valley.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

"One huge difference between having pets and raising animals to be slaughtered is the number of animals involved."

According to who?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 10:35 pm