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Animal Activists Make Progress on Banning Large-Scale Animal Farming in California County

A photo of Sonoma Valley in California next to chickens walking in a fenced-in area.
Source: TJM97/Wikimedia Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

An animal activist group has successfully put forward a petition in the northern California county of Sonoma that aims to ban large-scale concentrated animal farming in the area.

The group managed to collect over 37,000 signatures from residents in the county, which forced the county Board of Supervisors to take action. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is forced to either enact the ordinance, create a matching ordinance, or let it appear as an option for voters on the November ballot.

Last, Wednesday the county clerk and registrar of voters approved the measure to appear on the ballot, having far exceeded the required 19,746 signatures to appear.

Activist groups estimate there are nearly 3 million animals confined in two dozen large farming operations, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)

“Across these two dozen facilities, there are approximately 2.9 million animals confined,” said Samantha Faye, spokeswoman for the Coalition to End Factory Farming. “These facilities disproportionately affect animals, our water, our air quality, our public health, and the sustainability of agriculture in Sonoma County.”

This coalition represents a group of environmental activists and small producers who are sponsoring the initiative to crack down on what they see as an immoral industry.

One animal activist named Lewis Bernier, who visited factory farms in Sonoma, described some of the animal treatment as “the worst and most systemic animal cruelty that I’ve ever seen.”

The initiative would force a phase-out of large CAFOs in Sonoma County over three years. This classification is determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and reportedly the initiative will not affect CAFOs that are deemed medium-sized or smaller.

Sonoma County has cultivated an image as an area of idyllic, happy farming area, but activist groups insist that behind this public perception is a world of millions of animals constantly tortured and confined in tight spaces and cages.

“For too long these operations have been banking on the image of small, humane, environmentally sound Sonoma County farms,” said Faye.

However, concerned farm interests say there are no such large concentrated animal-feeding operations in the area, and argue that the proposed ordinance would threaten to close down as many as 60 family farms.

Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation said “This ballot initiative would eliminate family livestock farming that is so important in Sonoma County. There will be no eggs, chicken, dairy, cheese, lamb, and other livestock from Sonoma County in your supermarkets if this initiative passes.”

Dayna Ghiradelli, the president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau views the ordinance sponsors as “extremists,” saying they will not stop until they achieve an aim “to get rid of animal agriculture all together, everywhere.”

Others criticize the initiative for its vague language that could hit more farms than intended and accuse its supporters of trying to put family farms out of business.

Jennifer Reichardt of Sonoma County Poultry, Liberty Ducks said “We are against the very vague language in the proposed ballot initiative put forth by the Coalition to End Factory Farming, and the group behind them, Direct Action Everywhere.”


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