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El Cerrito Takes Up Backyard Animal Slaughter

The El Cerrito City Council's agenda tonight, Monday, includes the controversial issue of whether do-it-yourself animal slaughter should be banned under the city's new law allowing residents to keep some farm animals.

With the national debate heating up on backyard animal slaughter, the El Cerrito City Council may find itself under a brighter spotlight tonight, Monday, when the issue comes back to the council agenda.

The city spent 2-1/2 years discussing, debating and drafting a revised animals ordinance that the City Council . The new law, which makes it much easier for residents to keep a few chickens and a beehive, and somewhat easier to have a small pig and goats, did not accede to requests that it include a ban on do-it-yourself slaughter of the animals.

The council, however, , which is now back before the panel tonight.

The issue meanwhile has been generating considerable debate. A Feb. 2  essay on the Mother Jones magazine Web site, "Are 'DIY Slaughter Hobbyists' Destroying Your City?," takes issue with Bay Area critics of backyard slaughter.

In the national arena, a column in The Atlantic magazine in September, "The Locavore Movement's Mistake: Deregulating Animal Slaughter," created a stir with its strong condemnation of DIY slaughter, citing cases in San Francisco and Oakland as examples of inhumane backyard slaughter.

The City of Oakland is among the cities grappling with the issue and is  considering backyard slaughter regulations for its urban farming law. "Oakland has devoted considerable employee time to researching the issues involved in a backyard slaughter ban or regulation, as well as holding several public hearings and workshops," says the El Cerrito city staff report for tonight's council meeting. (The report is attached to this article.)

Some council members had earlier indicated support for a slaughter ban, but City Attorney Sky Woodruff told the panel that a ban would be difficult to craft because it cannot interfere with freedom of speech and religious expression by banning religious conduct that includes animal sacrifice. Instead the law passed by the council incorporated Woodruff's recommendation that the measure include regulations on health, sanitation and nuisances that would address the potential impacts of animal slaughter.

Two weeks after the law was first approved, when the measure came up for a second reading on Nov. 21, a half dozen slaughter opponents, including members of Oakland-based Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter, spoke during public comments and to the new law. Slaughter opponents argued that a ban can be made consistent with Constitutional protections of speech and religion.

The council at that meeting approved the new law, effective April 1, without a slaughter ban, while noting that a ban could be added later. It asked staff to report back with more information on how the city might adopt a ban if it chooses to, including potential legal liability and enforcement options.

Tonight's agenda item, which represents the staff's response, consists largely of a 10-page memo from Woodruff (included in the staff report attached to this article), recommending that the council "determine its policy objectives with regard to regulation of backyard animal slaughter."

Woodruff's memo notes that the new animals ordinance "was written to allow citizens to raise a limited number of animals (such as four chickens and one beehive; or goats and pigs with a administrative use permit) on private property for the purpose of consuming those animals and/or their by-products. One question the Council may wish to consider is whether banning slaughter for the purpose of consumption would be at odds with the purpose the of the Animal Ordinance to allow the ability of citizens to raise animals expressly for food production."

Among the issues to be weighed include the expense of slaughtering animals outside the city and whether commerical slaughtering would necessarily be more humane than backyard slaughter, the memo says.

Also requiring consideration are the extensive time and cost of crafting a ban that could withstand legal challenge and of defending it if it were challenged, Woodruff says.

He concludes:

"In reaching our previous recommendation to use existing (or slightly modified) nuisance abatement tools to address undesirable effects of slaughter, we assumed that the Council would want to avoid incidental restrictions on religious and other expressive conduct; limit the time and resources devoted to this area of regulation; and avoid or significantly reduce the risks of litigation. If those assumptions were incorrect, and the Council's priorities are different, then a different approach would be appropriate. Otherwise, we continue to recommend that using the nuisance abatement approach would be the most effective means of dealing with animal slaughter, at least until there is some evidence that the practice is being used widely in the City to the detriment of the public health, safety, and welfare."

For more background on this topic, you can see our past stories by clicking "El Cerrito Animals Ordinance" next to Related Topics below this article. For alerts on future stories on the issue, click the "Keep me posted" button below the article.

Bea Lieberman February 06, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Please no backyard slaughter!!!! Freedom of religion is good, but it doesn't have to mean freedom for all rituals and customs. Some can be unhealthy and cruel. Who would want to slaughter their pet goat in their garden?? People may end up buying animals elsewhere and killing them next door. If some people want to slaughter goats, that's fine, but not inside the city limits. Think of how pleasant it would be for the neighbors! We need some logical limits on individuals for the greater good of all...Some people of course believe in human sacrifice..Do we accommodate that too?? Killing animals should be banned from our fair city.
pete February 06, 2012 at 04:32 PM
In my crystal ball I see a back yard slaughter fee coming as the answer to justify the carnage.
Valerie Snider February 06, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Does anyone know any El Cerrito residents whose religion includes animal sacrifice? And even if there were such a family, why should our local laws accommodate their medieval rites?
rick February 06, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Proponents of backyard animal slaughter like to make the practice sound innocuous, but this article really highlights how controversial it is. It's just a terrible idea -- for the animals, for neighbors, for communities, for public health -- and it solves no problems at all.
Dan February 06, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Plenty of cities ban slaughter, or the keeping of animals outright. If El Cerrito is worried about getting sued, it needs to worry about what will happen if people's chilren are traumatized by the backyard butcher next door sticking a squealing pig with an ice pick. You can't be serious!
Deborah February 06, 2012 at 07:57 PM
I'm curious. Has anyone locally had problems with a neighbor killing an animal to eat? I can only see it being a problem with very inconsiderate, mean-minded people deciding to kill animals and flaunt it so others can hear or see. Most people I know who raise animals for food are very informed. They know how to feed them specifically for meat eating (which is often differently when being raised as a pet or for eggs), and they learn how to most humanely kill the animal. Taking them elsewhere to be slaughtered doesn't change this (and my be less humane in some instances), and would still be an option for those who feel they can't do it themselves. Being able to go through the full cycle of raising an animal for food, then killing it and processing it to eat really opens ones eyes to where our food comes from. I feel it would make me value that meat and that animal enormously, with such honor and respect. I'd like to hear from people who have experienced this themselves, either them raising an animal for meat or a neighbor. I think so many decisions get made out of fear and mis-information. What is it all really like?
Annamarie Torpey February 06, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Thank you so much for your reasonable reply to this article, and the questions you raised about personal experiences with this happening. I would not choose to raise and slaughter animals for my own consumption, but I do support the idea of people becoming more aware of how food gets onto their tables, and being part of that process themselves. I also become extremely nervous when an argument is made that there are somehow limits on what is and isn't covered by freedom of religion. I appreciate you stepping back and asking how much of the response comes from personal experiences, and how much comes from fear or horror stories we've heard and assumed must be true.
Cynthia February 06, 2012 at 10:55 PM
There have been a few court cases on the East Coast regarding believers in Santería, a syncretic religion consisting of West African and Roman Catholic beliefs. The Wikipedia article on Santería gives a good overview. Due to overall migration patterns into the United States, there are probably few, if any, Santería practitioners in El Cerrito, but who can say whether it's the *only* religion supporting animal sacrifice? Even Judaism, before the Fall of the Temple, practiced the same. Kosher methods of slaughter were required to minimize the suffering of the animal, whether for sacrifice or, more mundanely, for food. Probably the primary animal of concern will be the pigs. Chickens can be raised for eggs, insect control, and manure; goats for milk, cheese, and manure. But pigs' function is more constricted. Their manure is said not to be recommended for composting (I've read on .edu and .org sites), and they don't provide eggs, milk, or other secondary products.
Deborah February 07, 2012 at 05:52 AM
Interesting. I didn't get that impression at all from this article. All of the individuals I know who are raising small farm animals in their urban settings are well informed about the care of their animals, and very careful about maintaining good neighborly relations. From all my research I don't any public health problems arising unless you have a very irresponsible homeowner... and they can create public health issues with owning cats or dogs.
Deborah February 07, 2012 at 05:56 AM
That's quite a vivid bit of imagery you have there. Where did that come from? Most El Cerrito homes have fairly private backyards. I can't imagine an urban farmer killing one of their animals within visibility of neighbors either. And urban farmers learn about how to kill animals (if they raise them for meat, as many do not) in humane ways. As a matter of fact, they seem to have great reverence toward the animal. Most people don't think twice about the meat product they eat at dinner.
Valerie Snider February 07, 2012 at 06:37 AM
Deborah, it's those "fairly private backyards" that concern me. Cruel and inhumane acts can take place in a private setting. Just ask anyone who has worked as an animal rescuer. They have plenty of horror stories.
Annamarie Torpey February 07, 2012 at 07:37 AM
Valerie, that sounds more like an argument against keeping pets of any kind. If someone is going to commit horrible acts of cruelty in the privacy of their own backyard, I don't see how a ban on slaughter would stop them in any case. Beating your dog is a crime, but as you pointed out, people still do it. I agree with Deborah that the majority of people interested in urban farming have made themselves well aware of humane and sanitary practices - the urban farming movement is about a connection with our food sources, not about having an excuse to kill things at home. I'd much prefer my children learn about the entire lifecycle of a food animal, and respect the living creatures who provide us with our sources of protein, rather than only see plastic-wrapped, sanitized bits of ground beef from the market, making no connection to the creature it came from and its life and death. Raising animals for food is seen by many as a way to teach respect for animals and what they can give us, and respect for the environment as a whole, our place in the foodchain, our stewardship of the earth, our responsibility as consumers... I'm not 100% in favor of allowing backyard slaughter, I have yet to look into all the facts I'd need for an informed decision, but I'm finding the level of religious intolerance and fear-based assumptions and leaps of logic in this thread quite frightening.
Valerie Snider February 07, 2012 at 04:31 PM
No, Annamarie, it's not an argument against keeping pets. It's an argument in favor of a ban on the slaughter of animals in a residential setting. People don't keep pets for the purpose of slaughter. As for religious intolerance, are you in favor of any act performed in the name of religion? I support freedom of religion, but I draw the line at cruelty.


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