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.
"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.