I’m writing to you about the piece you allowed to run on your website (about “DIY Slaughter”). I’m one of the founders and organizers of Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter, and I’m proud of the work we’re doing to prevent harm and protect animals in Oakland. We are in complete support of urban farming and of the policy changes Oakland recently made to allow people to grow crops to feed themselves or to sell as an additional source of income. We think that’s fantastic, but we also think it’s a very bad idea to sanction and encourage people to keep and kill animals.
Despite what appeared to be an attempt at investigative journalism in a clearly biased opinion piece (though Mother Jones didn’t position it as an Op Ed), the author got several things wrong. Megan Webb, the director of the city shelter (Oakland Animal Services), has formally expressed concerns on the shelter’s website about the “influx” of “farm” animals appearing at the city shelter. The shelter also just closed the night drop to reduce animal intakes. If our city’s shelter director’s concerns are not enough of a warning of what’s to come, all we need to do is look at what other cities are experiencing. The Minneapolis-based animal rescue group, Chicken Run Rescue, says the number of hens surrendered and abandoned since the city passed a law allowing chickens has tripled. We can’t even take care of dogs and cats in our underfunded shelter in Oakland, despite there being laws and regulations about how pets should be treated. The last thing we need to do is add more animals and more potential problems. The Precautionary Principle alone begs for such prudence.
Also, the home occupation permit that the author mentioned in her post (and that I mentioned above) allows people to sell PLANT-based crops only. It absolutely does not include eggs and honey. Having one slaughter hobbyist get (mis)information from another does not “good journalism” make, though that’s exactly what Mother Jones says is one of their values. Did no editor check this contributor’s “facts”?
As for the author’s dismissal of our perception that this is elitist foodie-ism and her guess that eggs from backyard hens “would likely be cheaper,” that’s also not what the facts show. When you factor in the costs of building/buying a coop and building fencing and protection from predators, we’re talking about $4,000. And that doesn’t even include the care and feeding of the birds – if they stay healthy – which amounts to between $250 and $300/year. People will inevitably cut costs so that they’re not paying over $2.00 per egg, and the animals will suffer for it. We stand by our perception that allowing animals in backyards increases bragging rights and locavore cred but does nothing to alleviate the issues that people living in food deserts in Oakland currently face.
Finally, the author’s inclusion of El Cerrito also warrants a correction. City attorneys provide guidance; they do not make “rulings.” The Supreme Court case cited by the El Cerrito City Attorney during guidance dealt with a ban on ritual slaughter specifically targeting the Santeria religion. The case clearly upholds the principle held by the Supreme Court that laws that are neutrally crafted and generally applicable do not violate the religious clauses of the First Amendment. An outright ban on all slaughter (as opposed to only ritual slaughter) would meet the requirement of being “neutrally crafted” and “generally applicable.” This information has been provided to the El Cerrito City Council, and they have agreed to revisit a ban on slaughter.
The bottom line is that there is no problem Oakland has that the proliferation of farmed animals in backyards will solve, and I encourage Mother Jones to cover this important issue in a thoughtful, responsible, unbiased article.