HOC farmers market bans live chicken sales

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Feathers will cease to fly over alleged cruelty practices at the Heart of the City Farmers Market that we reported in February. The outdoor Civic Center market has announced it will no longer offer live poultry for sale as of May 27, a practice that had been grounds for a lawsuit and two years of fervent protesting from animal rights groups.

Raymond Young’s Poultry, a popular vendor, has been selling live chickens by the hundreds for nearly two decades at the HOC market every Wednesday and Sunday. In January, animal rights activist group LGBT Compassion filed a lawsuit alleging cruelty and civil rights violation against Young and the HOC after months of protesting and several attempts to get city agencies involved.

While the poultry stall remained popular with its largely Chinese clientele in spite of an ever-present throng of protesters, the practices caught the attention of Animal Care and Control and the Department of Public Health. Young had received hundreds of citations from ACC and warnings from the DPH, but they were essentially void due to an exemption in California law pertaining to poultry.

HOC market managers would not comment for this story, nor would Raymond Young. While the lawsuit is still pending, the announcement was perceived as a victory to the activist group.

“It sent a message to the city and to the public that animal cruelty and public health offenses is not acceptable and should not be endorsed or subsidized by the city,” said Andrew Zollman, founder of LGBT Compassion. “Having the market finally recognize that something like that should change is great.”

Zollman and fellow protestor Alex Felsinger filed the lawsuit with San Francisco attorney Matt Gonzalez. Zollman said that they had continued to protest in the months since filing the suit. Along with ACC, they said that Young had repeatedly violated animal cruelty laws and health codes even after the level of scrutiny on his stall had increased.

The ACC, which had cited Young hundreds of times for practices such as unsanitary conditions, lack of water, and improper handling of the chickens, viewed the decision by the market to ban sales as good news.

“Animals are food for a lot of people, but as Proposition 2 in California exhibited, people do care about the treatment of them,” said Rebecca Katz, director of the ACC, referring to the Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act of 2008. “If the vendors had been able to treat the animals appropriately, I don’t think it would have become this issue. This was profitable; he still could have made good money and done it properly.”

Bullfeathers Quail, the other live bird vendor at the market, had received significantly less attention from protesters and city agencies because it sold far fewer birds – about 350 per week – and had not been accused of nearly as many violations. Nonetheless, the vendor will also be banned.

Zollman said they will continue to protest the stall up until May 27, mainly because they fear the vendors will operate with a higher level of disregard since they have “nothing to lose.” Although they have received caustic criticism from groups who believe their protests are an attack on Chinese culture, they will plan to shift their attention north to Chinatown to live markets operating there.

“We are hoping that what we have learned and what city agencies have learned will pave the way,” said Zollman.

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