By David Howard
I don't have any current plans to husband backyard farm animals, but if I did, I most certainly would be doing so with a view towards seeing them on the dining room table one day.
The animals need to be protected from inhumane treatment, and the owners need to be protected from accusations and charges of animal cruelty.
The City of Alameda needs to make express provisions in the municipal code for humane backyard slaughter.
We need explicit ordinances that provide guidance on backyard slaughter to ensure that animals and owners are protected.
Alameda is a diverse community, and one must expect that people of different cultural, religious or economic backgrounds will embrace new, less restrictive, backyard farming regulations to provide food for the table.
We need to celebrate our cultural diversity, and draft rules that serve all members of our community, including those that expect to slaughter and consume the animals that they permits them to raise.
As Planning Manager Andrew Thomas likes to say, we need to consider rules for the entire city and community, not just a narrow interest group. Regulations that serve only the people that want to use pigs as pets is not inclusive of all of our residents, cultures and needs.
In some cultures, animals that westerners consider pets, such as dogs and cats, are considered food. Express regulations governing backyard slaughter are necessary to clearly delineate which animals are pets, and may not be slaughtered for food, and which are livestock or poultry. These need to be aligned with state and federal guidelines.
Environmental health agencies acknowledge that some members of some ethnic communities already practice backyard slaughter 'on the sly,' without any oversight. There should be clear guidance that allows this practice to come out from the shadows, and protects the animals from needless suffering.
Instead of ducking the issue, we should acknowledge that some animals will be raised with the express intent of slaughter and consumption. Doing so will translate to regulations that ensure the humane treatment and welfare of the animals as they are raised, to ensure they are safe for consumption.
The banning or regulation of backyard slaughter is fraught with a host of issues, including legal challenges on the basis of freedom or cultural or religious expression. It's better to acknowledge reality and make provisions for the humane culling of these animals.
California law expressly permits the slaughter of livestock, such as goats, sheep and pigs, according to religious custom, by severing the carotid artery and allowing the animal to lose consciousness from blood loss. Local regulations should reiterate and reinforce this permission. (Food and Agricultural Code, Section 19501)
Animals are at risk of suffering gruesome, prolonged deaths at the hands of un-educated and un-skilled backyard farmers. A recent case in Fair Oaks, California, regarding the slaughter of a pig, is a prime example. Regulations are needed that expressly permit backyard slaughter and provide guidelines on how to perform it humanely. Municipalities, including the City of Alameda, should look to offer classes in husbandry and humane slaughter, including demonstrations, to protect the animals and residents.
California state law currently exempts from health and sanitation requirements owners that slaughter animals for their own personal consumption. (Food and Agricultural Code, Section 19020)
The lack of regulations governing the slaughtering process creates the risk that the animal by-products of backyard slaughter may not be captured and disposed of properly, but instead create health risks or contaminate the environment. For example, do we want blood from a backyard slaughter running into the storm drains which dump directly into the Bay?
Every year, at Easter, communities are warned against buying rabbits or chicks as gifts for children. After the novelty wears off, what will the families do with the animals? What will backyard farmers do with their animals after the novelty wears off? Or after the animals exceed legislated weight limits? We must provide guidance for the humane culling of these animals for owners that want to do so.
Children deserve to know where their food, or other people's food, including meat, comes from. By expressly permitting backyard slaughter, we provide opportunities for urban families that choose to educate their children on the full cycle of life.