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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