Activists Claim Victory, Bird-Seekers Forced to Chinatown, Safeway

chickens.jpgSales of live chickens and other live poultry at the Heart of the City Farmers Market at UN Plaza — the only farmers market in San Francisco to offer live birds for sale — will end May 27, the market announced Sunday, a move that led a group of animal rights activists who had worked for years to stop the poultry sales to claim victory.

The move is voluntary, according to a woman who answered the Heart of the City Farmers Market telephone and identified herself only as Kate.

“I’ve been told we can’t comment any further” due to pending litigation, she said.

A group calling itself LGBT Compassion had for several years staged protests of chicken vendor Raymond Young Live Poultry, one of two vendors who sold live poultry at the market.

The Modesto-based bird vendor had since 1990 a city permit to sell live broilers and other birds; its customers were primarily monolingual and low-income Chinese people. LGBT Compassion claimed that the live bird sales violated state animal cruelty laws as well as local public health standards.

In January, LGBT Compassion sued Heart of the City Farmers Market and the Youngs for civil rights violations after Alex Felsinger, 25, a local animal rights activist, claimed a Young employee punched him in the face and stole his camera.

That lawsuit is still pending (former Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez, the one-time lead attorney for the plaintiffs, has since left private practice to join the city Public Defender’s office), but the market’s move to stop the sales is “an amazing victory… a long time coming,” Felsinger said.

“It’s an amazing victory for the animals and for public health,” he said. “The violations we documented at the farmers market were rampant… it’s really amazing it didn’t happen sooner.”

Attorneys for the Farmers Market did not return telephone messages seeking comment. The attorneys working on Felsinger’s lawsuit could also not be reached.

Both the Department of Public Health and the San Francisco District Attorney took no action on shutting down the poultry sales; the DA’s “interpretation of the law is wrong,” according to Felsinger.

Prior to the ban — and, presumably, until the ban is effective on May 27 — customers at the farmers market could purchase several live hens for as little as a few dollars apiece. The birds would be placed into paper bags, which were then put into plastic bags for the trip home, where the birds are slaughtered by the customer.

San Francisco policy on selling live birds in public spaces has not changed, according to officials. If a vendor were to apply for a permit to sell live fowl, the Department of Public Health would send a zoning referral to the Planning Department, according to DPH Inspector Lisa O’Malley.

No violations of public health code were observed by DPH at either Raymond Young or at Bullfinch Quail, according to O’Malley.

Representatives for Raymond Young could not be reached Monday. Jayce Benton, the owner and operator of Arbuckle-based Bullfeathers Quail — the market’s other poultry vendor, which will also have to halt its sales May 27 — said the move “won’t change a thing” and was culturally-motivated.

“The bottom line is, there won’t be any difference,” an incensed Benton told the Appeal. “All [LGBT Compassion] has done is take away choice: They took away [market-goers’] abilities to support small farmers. And they singled out Chinese people.”

“They said, ‘What you do is cruel, you shouldn’t be doing it this way, we don’t want you to have this choice, we are going to diminish your ability to live out your culture.’ Period,” added Benton, who was banned from an Oakland farmers market after LGBT Compassion asked that market’s managers to halt live poultry sales. “This is intolerance to the Chinese community, that’s what this is.”

Felsinger disputed Benton’s claims. “That’s trying to distract from the actual situation,” he said. “Stuffing chickens into paper bags is animal cruelty. Would you put kittens or puppies you just adopted from the Humane Society into paper bags? It just wouldn’t happen.”

Photo: LGBT Compassion

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  • Greg Dewar

    Good to know that left wing bullies have at least one place in the world where they can push people around and use lawsuits to put struggling small business people out of business, and play off of racist stereotypes. How “open and tolerant” they are.

  • LGBTcompassion

    I’d like to clarify and correct some items in this article:

    – The lawsuit filed by activists addressing violence, anti-gay slurs, and other civil rights violations was not the primary reason for the ban, though it certainly did help get the attention of the market’s Directors as they could no longer simply ignore the problems. For over two years, activists documented and reported illegal animal cruelty (Animal Care & Control cited Raymond Young for 795 cruelty violations in May 2009, which the D.A. refuses to prosecute), state health code violations, violation’s of the market’s main permit’s animal welfare and public health laws, federal food stamp laws, wastewater contamination, and apparent violations of CA’s direct marketing laws applicable to farmers’ markets.

    – The chickens being sold were not “broilers.” They were primarily worthless “spent” former egg-laying hens sold off cheaply by several Central Valley factory farms (evidenced by their cut-off beaks, advanced ages, their breed [Rhode Island Red, developed for egg production and poor for meat] and the fact that one of the farms listed on the health permit belongs to Gemperle Industries, one of CA’s largest egg producers).

    – The hens were $6 or $5.50 each.

    – The hens were brought not only to homes, but illegally to restaurants (documented on video and by customers), into public housing (including for persons with HIV/AIDS such as nearby GEDC) and for Santeria ritual sacrifice (their bodies sometimes winding up in public parks to the horror of children finding them). Homeless persons frequently bought them as “pets” only to meet terrible fates on the streets. Some escape or are “set free” to become burdens on animal rescue organizations (including Animal Care & Control) if they survived long enough.

    – The slaughter of some of the birds by unlicensed individuals violated state humane poultry slaughter laws, which officals refused to enforce.

    – Contrary to Ms. O’Malley’s statement, the Dept. of Public Health has repeatedly found violations involving feces spread in public areas, and customers and vendors bringing live animals near produce and other food for sale (though the Dept. was originally very resistant to responding to our earlier documented complaints). In fact, they held a hearing on 11/9/2010 and gave both the market and Raymond Young Poultry final warnings, though they refused to follow up with enforcement afterward even though we submitted proof of violations almost every market day since. You can see examples of feces spread throughout public areas at http://youtu.be/4trXVvThQAA. In addition to the market, feces on these bags get spread through public transit, restaurants, and shared housing.

    Feces from factory-farmed animals (both wet and dry/airborne) are known carriers of many dangerous pathogens, and small children, persons with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

    – Neither Jayce Benton/Bullfeathers Quail or Raymond Young Poultry are “small farmers.” Mr. Young sources his birds from 3 enormous factory farms (owned by others) in 3 Central Valley cities (Modesto, Manteca and Wilton), and Mr. Benton owns a gigantic enclosed-shed factory farm in Arbuckle, with a tiny fraction of his sales being at the farmers’ market.

    – No cultural or ethnic group has been “singled out” and such accusations are simply an attempt to distract from the real issues. LGBT Compassion campaigns against illegal/unethical cruelty and law violations no matter who does it, and for what reason. In fact, they campaign against others in their own community (LGBT) involved in gay rodeo, and traditionally “American” activities such as factory farming, circuses, dog breeding, rodeo, and dog-fighting. Several of its key people are Asian, and many of its volunteers and supporters are Chinese, other Asian, or other ethnicities. As with many other social problems throughout history, a long-standing and tenacious demand by for a product does not make it legal or ethical – and change is inevitable. Compassion and respect for the law are recognized by many people in different cultures.

    In summary, the sale of live birds at farmers’ markets is inherently cruel, directly creates violations of state health laws and places the public at health risks, and should not be subsidized and supported by a city like San Francisco.

    More information, including many video and documents, can be found at http://lgbtcompassion.org/livemarkets/ and http://www.youtube.com/user/LGBTcompassionDotOrg

  • LGBTcompassion

    Also, contrary to this article, LGBT Compassion has always equally protested and documented violations of both vendors (Jayce Benton/Bullfeathers Quail and Raymond Young Poultry). Market manager Christine Adams claimed otherwise in a prior interview, presumably to infer that there was a racially-motivated reason to leave Mr. Benton alone.

    Contrary to the reporter’s and Mr. Benton’s assertions that sales won’t be affected, supermarket chickens (which, though they also suffer tremendously on factory farms, likely suffer less for a shorter time than the market’s birds) is not a substitute for live chickens and game birds, and Chinatown shops cannot compete with the prices and supply of the birds sold at a city-subsidized farmers’ market with little overhead to the vendor, at a major public transit hub with easy parking. People from other cities have been able to easily load up vehicles with up to 100 birds (often for restaurants), which is difficult and more expensive in Chinatown. There is likely no other public area where the filth, stench and cruelty of such an operation would again be allowed, and it would immediately be protested as well, for the same problems, until it was gone.

  • DT

    Doesn’t Raymond Young Poultry sell chickens off the back of trucks parked on Grant Av and Stockton Street? I seem to recall their being parked with sales for years now.

    4th gen SF native.

  • LGBTcompassion

    DT, thanks for the info, we’ll check it out. I have heard that live chickens are sold out of a truck there, but not that it was Raymond Young. There was no such permit for him in the Dept. of Public Health’s records.