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  City Council Cries Fowl
September 28, 2011

As the final item in a relatively short agenda last night, the Richmond City Council took up a rather meaty item – sale of live chickens for human consumption at the Richmond Farmers Market.

Chicken Sale One

For some time now, the San Francisco based LGBT Compassion has been on a mission to ban the sale of live chickens at farmers markets, and they have been rather successful. Pressure from the group resulted in removal of chickens from the San Francisco Heart of the City Farmers Market, leaving Richmond as the only remaining Bay Area source. According to Richmond Market Manager Steve Ghigliotto, about 700 chickens are sold in Richmond each week, primarily to ethnic minorities including Hispanics and Asians.

On its website this morning, LGBT Compassion bragged, “VICTORY! Live bird sales banned at Richmond, CA Farmers' Market! On September 27, 2011, the Richmond City Council voted to end live bird sales at its farmers' market, effective November 1, 2011. There are no longer any live bird sales allowed at any Bay Area farmers' market.”

According to its website, “LGBTcompassion.org is run by gay San Francisco Bay Area animal advocates, in affiliation with the non-profit organization Bay Area Vegetarians. Our mission is primarily to help animals (with a focus on farm animals, who suffer and are killed by the billions each year), to promote the many benefits of a plant-based diet to our community, and to spread awareness of the relationship between the way  the way we treat and view animals and the way we treat and view other humans.”


Ironically, an arcane bill, SB 917, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Brown in July will effectively ban live chicken sales statewide beginning in January, 2012. SB 917 was promoted by supporters as a ban on "roadside sales" of animals. In actuality, this bill prohibits any public animal sales activities unless specifically exempted….roadside or not. No animal sales may transpire in any public place. Offenders would face a fine on a first offense, and misdemeanor criminal charges thereafter. SB 917 adds to the current criminal animal cruelty statue and doubles the maximum allowed penalties for these offenses. Current law describes animal cruelty offenses (such as torturing, tormenting, cruelly beating, mutilating, or cruelly killing an animal) and specifies that such activities can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, with possible jail time.


Another California law, resulting from Proposition 2 of 2008, was signed into law in July of 2010. The law requires all eggs sold in the state as of Jan. 1, 2015, to come from hens able to stand up, fully extend their limbs, lie down and fully extend their wings without touching each other or the sides of cages. This would probably make “spent” hens the most humanely treated of any chickens except perhaps those rare and expensive “free-range” birds from boutique farms.


With SB 917, the issue of live chicken sales in Richmond is essentially moot, and action by the City Council was largely symbolic. Advocates for the ban argued that live chicken sales pose health hazards and that handling of the birds is cruel. The maintain that the current vendor’s source of chickens is “spent” hens, meaning birds that have been used for egg production but are no longer efficient producers. For more detailed information, see http://www.lgbtcompassion.org/livemarkets/default.htm.


After declining to support sustainably grown marijuana just two weeks ago on a split vote (Different Shades of Green - City Council Fails to Pass Sustainable Medical Marijuana Ordinance, September 17, 2011), the Richmond City Council flexed its health and compassion bona fides and on another split vote (4-2 with Butt and Booze dissenting) took chicken off the menu at the Richmond Farmers Market.


While I agree that the factory farm system from which most of our chicken comes is dysfunctional and that farmers market vendors should have to obey all pertinent laws relating to the handling of chickens, I could not support a ban on the sales. There was no evidence offered that these chickens were any less healthy or worse treated than the plucked, packaged and labeled chicken you get at Safeway. If 700 people in Richmond want to start their chicken dinner with a live bird that they have to kill and pluck, I say more power to them. We live in a time where people are so separated from the source of their food that all they know about it is what aisle it comes from at the grocery store.


When asked what the staff recommendation was for this item, City Manager’s Office Management Analyst Lashonda Wilson wisely declined to comment, drawing the response, “chicken,” from Councilmember Ritterman.