Op-Ed: Legal backyard slaughter in Oakland? Screw that!  »

This backyard livestock slaughter thing in Oakland is serious. There are actually folks advocating that Oaklanders must be allowed to raise and kill animals to eat because—well—they don’t even know.

One such advocate group is the Oakland Food Policy Council. In its recent “Statement on Urban Agriculture" the OFPC indicates strong support for "the integration of animals into urban food production systems because they provide products that can improve the diets of Oakland’s residents (e.g. fresh milk, honey, eggs, and meat)." "Integration of animals into urban food production systems"? Can I get a translator please?

"Integration" means we allow animals to be crammed into backyards throughout Oakland. Some of these animals will be named, stroked, and cuddled before they are killed, while others will suffer a more factory-farm-style life of abuse and neglect—just in a different zip code and (hopefully) without thousands of their cousins alongside them. They all meet the same fate, though, because these Oakland animals have now become part of the "urban food production system".

"So what’s wrong with that?" they say. "I’m hungry and I need to eat meat." Well, a few things are wrong with that, particularly in a dense urban environment like Oakland:

  1. People don’t need to eat meat, certainly not people living in the Bay Area. Eating animals here is a choice.
  2. My grandparents had a farm. It was roughly 250 acres. They had cows, sheep, and chickens. Each animal group had its own section, the cows with the most room to roam about. Which brings up one of the big problems with urban livestock: Is there a 250-acre backyard in Oakland? If your Oakland backyard is like mine, there is room for a couple of tomato plants and a crappy commuter bike. Where do we fit the chickens, sheep, goats, cows, rabbits, ducks, geese, quail, etc.? It is cruel to force animals into small cages for their entire existence—we don’t allow people to treat dogs or cats this way.
  3. There are undoubtedly many farmers who legitimately care about their animals. But having seen some of the heinous things people do to the animals we call pets in Oakland, I cannot fathom the level of abuse against so-called livestock animals in Oakland by the folks who really don’t care. Even if the livestock animals are not abused in the same way as the pets (seems unlikely but let’s assume it’s true), the simple designation “livestock” results in a whole new category of violent and disturbing treatment. For example, why is it OK to breed chickens and goats in your backyard and throw away the male offspring, when the same practice applied to dogs and cats would be considered outrageous? And even if there were tight restrictions, who would be there to enforce them? Animal control is already overburdened with the existing cases of abuse, neglect, and abandonment of pets. How could they possibly have time to peek into every backyard to make sure the chickens can still walk or the goats have enough room to turn around?
  4. It’s not just about you when you live in an urban environment; our neighbors have needs as well. One of those needs is to be free from disease and pandemic. Animals packed into backyards will attract other unwanted animals, like rats, that can quickly infest an entire neighborhood. Another urban neighbor’s desire is to live in an environment without offensive odors or sounds. I don’t mind the sound and smell of a pig, goat, or chicken, but some people do, and I have to imagine pretty much everyone would have a big problem with the terrified screams or squawks of a animal being killed next door. Forget about escaped or abandoned animals cruising Telegraph Ave.—what about feral chicken colonies?
  5. f you really want to “improve the diets of Oakland’s residents” encourage a plant-based diet. There is ample and compelling evidence that meat isn’t good for you. No need to rehash it here; watch the movie Forks Over Knives, you’ll get the point.

So yeah, I have a problem with the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals as backyard livestock, the possibility of disease and nuisances like feral chicken colonies, the awful cries of an animal in fear of its life reverberating through my neighborhood, and the inability of any authority to stop it. I’ll have to act in opposition to the “integration of animals into urban food production systems” in Oakland. Please join me in signing and sharing the petition to "Prevent the Proliferation of Backyard Livestock and Animal Slaughter in Oakland." We need to let the good people who run Oakland know that we’re all for a sustainable and healthy food system here, but the extreme suffering and killing of animals cannot possibly be sustainable or healthy.

Tim Anderson is a proud citizen of Oakland where he lives with his partner, their three dogs, tomato plants, and an herb garden. He is a regular volunteer photographer with Oakland Animal Services. If you want to get involved with all this nonsense, you can email him!

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