On the chopping block in Oakland

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



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.



First off, I said that if someone had 50 cats (hyperbole) -- meaning any large number of pets -- it would be a nuisance. So perhaps I should have been more clear that I meant the typical pet owner who has what most people would think is a reasonable number of pets (if you have more than 4 or 5 you're starting to look crazy).

Second: "According to who?" Anyone who actually eats meat. How many servings would a small animal like a rabbit or chicken make? And if you're just putting in tiny specks of meat in your food like cheap take out fried rice, what would be the point of going to all the trouble of raising and killing an animal (sexual gratification? a merit badge for ascending to a new level of pseudo-environmentalist left wing douche baggery?)? Ok, so you have your few servings from a rabbit or chicken. How many times a year or a month are you going to eat the meat your raise? So how many animals is that genius? Dozens is no exaggeration. Of course, the equation looks much better if you start moving to larger animals like pigs, sheep and goats. Who the hell wants pigs, sheep or goats living next door????

I get that you want to keep this ideological or theoretical. I get that anyone who would spend hours inefficiently raising animals in their house or apartment for the small amount of meat they can provide doesn't exactly live in the real world (is it a trust fund or self induced poverty?). But for those of us who have to work 40-50 hours a week, have hectic lives, and don't have the time or inclination to deal with a lot of BS in our neighborhood, the whole farm animal in your back yard or closet or whatever concept doesn't look like a good idea.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

Just you.
Straw man number two.
Your argument still sucks.
You should also give up on conjuring images of "dozens" of animals in "closets" or "apartments".
That's straw man argument number 3.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 12:13 am

You're building straw men of your own -- I didn't say anyone would get all of their meat from animals they raise. My point is that it's not plausible that someone would go through all the trouble of raising animals to eat if they are only going to get a few pounds of meat every year. Does that seem credible to anyone reading this? To make it worth the trouble you'd have to have large animals or dozens of small animals--and I don't want to live next door to that.

I have a lot of relatives in the Northwest who hunt. They fill their freezers with venison during hunting season and their families eat it a few times a week for the rest of the year. That has a real impact on their family food budget. And if we're going to imagine that they're making some dent on environmental issues, they're having more of an impact replacing grocery store meat with wild meat 100 or so times a year than someone would have if they were raising anything less than dozens of rabbits in their home to eat.

And yes, I am trying to rouse a response from the public. I'll wear my position on my sleeve because I think it's a position that most people share: There are ideologues who are in a very small minority of the population who try to have a disproportionate influence on public policy and it's negatively impacting the rest of us. They tend to speak in theoretical terms and make rosy assumptions that have very little basis in reality about how policies will actually play out. Whether it's libertarians like Rand Paul who think we should have no civil rights laws (what would the real world impact of that be?), or laissez faire zealots who want to abolish medicare because they have blind faith that the market will provide better solutions. Or the NRA who makes average gun owners look crazy. The debate regarding too many policy issues is entirely framed by the loudest people at the extremes. Meanwhile, us everyday people are busy living our lives and don't take the time to fight against the insanity. Btw, this stump speech was solely made for the purposes of full disclosure -- I am in no way saying that the very small minority of the population who are either vegans or who would go through all the trouble of raising animals to eat in the city are libertarians, laisseez faire capitalists or the NRA.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 8:46 am

If you are not raising "ALL" your meat, then what exactly is the point of your backyard livestock endeavor?

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 4:21 am

Wow. The writer of post "Fist off, I said that if" is making a number of inflammatory assumptions about people. I wonder if that is meant only to create a reaction from the public? "If" is a big word.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 6:30 am

Property values will be destroyed by this, add one more item to the list of reasons to raise fruits and veggies, sans animalia.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 8:54 am

Who could you possibly expect to believe this?
The city will pay you to live there and run a farm.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

As a resident of Oakland I find this pretty offensive. So Oakland is just a cesspool where a bunch of crazy idiots can do whatever they want, because it's not one of the richest cities? That's why you are targeting Oakland for your foolishness?

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

The economy is bad, People still need food.
You need to grow a thicker skin, if the fact that property values in Oakland are in the basement hurts your feelings.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

I don't get it. You don't care if property values get worse? People should be able to buy a home in Oakland and not have to live next to a hippie animal husbandry commune.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

Keep trying.
No one is buying your hyperbole.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

Pretty funny that I should grow a thicker skin for the fact that you're trying to ruin an already troubled city, yet when someone calls out exactly what this is (a backyard hippie animal husbandry commune) you're "group" is up in arms.

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 4:25 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 @ 3:40 pm

This website's comment interface is weird.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

No kidding, sometimes it shows up right away other times it takes 10 minutes to come up.

Posted by chelsea on May. 25, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

The level of vitrol in some of these posts speaks volumes to how controversial an issue this is. We need positive changes in Oakland. We don't need more violence, anger and petty infighting. More vegetable gardens, less hate.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

There are several lengthy, thoughtful posts here that you clearly disagree with, but you're not addressing those at all.
Are you just too lazy?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

No, I was just pointing out that this is a controversial subject.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

Agreed that we could use less hate.
But urban people, including in Oakland will benefit from the freedom to raise and kill their own animals, rather than have it done for them, at greater expense, in a far away place.
Read Omnivore's Dilemma.
People need to get back in touch with what they eat.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

How is getting to know an animal on an intimate and personal level (then killing and eating it) going to help people in Oakland, exactly?

Make us less sensitive to killing living things?

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 9:02 am

The meat they eat is from animals that are, yes, killed.
In the same way that raising your own vegetables brings you to a better understanding of where your food comes from and a greater self sufficiency, so does raising your own animals for food, if you choose to do so.
What your neighbors eat is none of your business.

"In the United States, an 2003 Harris Poll conducted for a vegetarian
organisation, found that 4-10% of the American population calls itself
"vegetarian". However, only 2.8% of the population never eats meat,
poultry, or fish/seafood."

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

Those pesky pescatarians.

Posted by chelsea on May. 27, 2011 @ 9:00 am

Ultimately, this is a useless debate as it is based on the moral argument of whether it is right or wrong to eat meat. People have the right to choose not be forced.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

No, it is a debate about Oakland, and whether or not the city is going to go into the business of becoming an an animal agriculture regulatory agency.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 9:03 am

"an animal regulatory agency".
We already have many laws preventing animal cruelty and providing safeguards against hazards to public health.

You are way to late.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

Apparently there is an overflow of cats and dogs at the local shelters, why not tap into this affordable meat source as well? Cats and dogs tend to be larger than rabbits, so more protein to go around.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

Hey, the prisons are overflowing with people. Instead of releasing criminals onto the streets, lets make convictbugers!

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 9:08 am

In other countries people eat dogs and cats. Why is the US so high and mighty that they don't do the same when there is such a shortage of meat?

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

There is no meat shortages here.

Posted by chelsea on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 8:57 am

We already do in a way... most shelter animals get turned into soap and other products.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

Soap really? I find that hard to believe. Cats and dogs do not have that much fat on them.

Posted by chelsea on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 8:58 am

Apparently there is an overflow of cats and dogs at the local shelters, why not tap into this affordable meat source as well? Cats and dogs tend to be larger than rabbits, so more protein to go around.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

Apparently there is an overflow of cats and dogs at the local shelters, why not tap into this affordable meat source as well? Cats and dogs tend to be larger than rabbits, so more protein to go around.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

Here is a delicious dog meat recipe by the way. Contrary to popular belief, Asians are not the only culture that eat dog meat.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

has nothing to do with this debate.
I'm sure you wish it did, because it sounds terribly emotional and wrong.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

I certainly did not say that people in Oakland should eat cats and dogs. Those were your words. There is an excessive number of animals at shelters that are killed daily, logically there is no reason for this meat to go to waste. This is problem across the country, with an easy solution, given the need for cheap meat. People are trying to feed themselves. I am being logical, you are being emotional and judgmental.

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 4:30 am

You posted like mad for a day or so after your op-ed was published, and then went anonymous.
Did you grow ashamed?
Are you trying to pretend that more than 5 people are posting here against people being allowed to choose for themselves what they eat?

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

Novella: Why haven't you signed your name to any of the posts? It's apparent from the writing style, logical fallacies, and tone that one person is writing the posts lauding urban animal slaughter. Why don't you sign your name, or are you embarrassed by your position or pathetic reasoning?

If you've read Ian's article and posts you'll see he's more diplomatic, patient and not as willing to call this out for what it is. He has an animal rights agenda, I have a not ruining my city agenda. And speaking of identifying things for what they really are: I take your use of Ian's first and last name on a post that you didn't sign that includes a vitriolic accusation to be threatening. Are you trying to be threatening? Is that what you resort to when you have no argument?

And I'm going to address the upscale cities you listed where you say that people are engaged in at home animal farming: You're very careful about the words you use. You never claimed that there are laws on the books in those towns allowing for home slaughtering. People are or at least have raised animals for slaughter in Oakland--you wrote a whole book about it. Go to one of those other towns and get your ordinance passed.

Posted by Mike -- the concerned and increasingly irritated Oaklander on May. 28, 2011 @ 4:26 am

She's probably too busy farming to argue with an angry mush head like you about a law that will soon reinforce people's ability to make their own decisions about what and how they will feed themselves.
Sucks for intolerant activists like you who try to impose your values on others when it is absolutely none of your business.

Posted by Guest on May. 28, 2011 @ 8:12 am

" 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.

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 @ 9:17 pm

This website comment app needs improvement. sorry for the triple post.

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

The whole thing is pretty silly. OPD doesn't investigate property crimes anymore, I doubt they'll come arrest me when my chickens stop laying and I make soup. My neighbor's pitbull hanged herself and my neighbor dumped the body in front of his house in the middle of west mac. It took animal control a week to pick up the body... A week of me calling with the details of who dumped the body. OPD never came by.

The move to grassvalley argument seems very similar to the one I get from the drug dealers on my corner when I tell them to move.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

your position is that since oakland has bad neighborhoods we should let people do whatever they want. i thought the point of this whole thing was to improve peoples lives by giving them a way to feed themselves.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

No. My point is that Oakland has much greater issues to deal with. I'm sorry that animal rights groups are offended by one woman selling rabbit pies. But I'd much rather Oakland deal with crime, drugs, poverty, pot holes, education...

And yes, raising your own animals for eggs or meat is all about quality... There's no way to compete with factory farmed eggs or birds on price... It will always be cheaper to buy from pac'n'save. The same is true of most vegetables. But I like knowing what goes into my food. I don't eat meat, but have a lot of respect for people who raise animals for meat with care... Certainly a lot more respect than people who eat meat but can't butcher an animal, let alone slaughter one.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

So increasing the strain on Oakland Animal Services would help with poverty, education, drugs and crime by diverting funds from things like the police and schools. And yes a greater number of animals in the city = greater number of calls to animal services. Where do you think the money will come from for increased funding to Animal Services? Oakland's money tree? Why don't you all try this nonsense in Piedmont or Menlo Park?

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 4:36 am

Keeping backyard livestock is being done in Piedmont, Montclair, San Carlos, Los Altos and other upper middleclass neighborhoods. Everyone (well, everyone rational) recognizes that growing and raising your own food is beneficial. This is not a poor Oakland is being targeted issue. This is a movement around the nation to reconnect with our food source. To stop denying the reality of where are food comes from, the labor it takes to produce it, and that death is a natural part of feeding ourselves- whether it is a plant or an animal, an organism dies.

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 7:28 am

It is simply not true that raising livestock for slaughter is legal in all of those places. Keeping a limited number of animals in strictly regulated living conditions is allowed, but slaughtering them and selling them to your neighbors is not allowed.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

'but slaughtering them... is not allowed."

Where did you get this?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

Where is the citation for your original comment? This is the comments section, not a peer reviewed journal. Nothing you say here matters.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 10:28 am