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Limits on the size of CAFO animal farms in Sonoma County are determined by voters

Sonoma County voters will be asked in November whether they want to limit the size of animal farms.

The county clerk and registrar of voters approved the measure for the ballot last Wednesday after animal rights and environmental activists collected more than enough signatures to meet the required 19,746.

The petition was led by the group Coalition to End Factory Farming, which wants to end large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Sonoma County.

The initiative calls for a three-year phase-out of one classification of animal farms: the large CAFO. It does not affect farms classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as medium CAFO or smaller.

According to Coalition spokesperson Samantha Faye in a statement released Monday, the ordinance could affect two dozen sites classified as large CAFOs, which she said accounts for only about 2.4% of animal farms in the province.

“These two dozen facilities hold approximately 2.9 million animals,” she said. “These facilities disproportionately impact animals, our water, our air quality, our public health and the sustainability of agriculture in Sonoma County.”

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The group uses the EPA definition of CAFO, which varies depending on the species, its quantities and how the farm handles animal waste. For example, a duck farm is classified as a “large CAFO” if it houses 5,000 ducks and uses a liquid manure processing system that flushes their waste on-site into a retention pond or lagoon. If it disposes of the manure in a different way, it won’t become a large CAFO until it has 30,000 ducks.

The potential ordinance would state that CAFOs disproportionately impact low-income and underserved communities, and that the county plans to provide a retraining and employment assistance program for workers at CAFOs to ease the transition to safer forms of work .

“We oppose the very vague language in the proposed ballot initiative from the Coalition to End Factory Farming and the group behind it, Direct Action Everywhere,” said Jennifer Reichardt of Sonoma County Poultry, Liberty Ducks in an email. “This will not save family farms. The goal of this initiative is to put farms out of business.”

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Reichardt said if the measure passes, Bay Area residents will have to pay a higher price for meat, dairy and eggs because they have to be imported.

“If passed, it will increase greenhouse gas emissions by bringing in products from further afield, raise food costs and close local, often multi-generational, businesses. It will put hundreds of workers out of work and the importation of other meat, dairy and eggs from outside the county and state,” Reichardt said.

Sonoma is one of four California counties where highly pathogenic bird flu was identified among commercial flocks last year, prompting the Board of Supervisors to declare a local state of emergency in December 2023.

The Coalition to End Factory Farming includes animal rights groups, small farm advocates and Direct Action Everywhere, an organization that, among other things, wants to legalize people’s right to enter places like factory farms to remove animals they say are there. fear. Their activism includes trespassing to obtain video footage inside farms and rescuing animals.

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Their co-founder, San Francisco attorney Wayne Hsiung, was arrested in November and sentenced last year in Sonoma County to 90 days in jail and two years of probation for misdemeanor trespassing on chicken and duck farms in 2018 and 2019.

At a news conference Monday, Cassie King of Direct Action Everywhere said they view farms from public land or use satellite imagery to decide whether to enter a facility. For example, they can tell if birds never go outside in a supposedly free-range facility.

“Sometimes they find animals that are on the brink of death, that are obviously sick or injured and can’t get up, can’t get food and water,” she said. “If they leave them behind, they will certainly die, die slowly from starvation or dehydration. In many cases, facility employees will come and kill the individuals who are too sick or weak to feed themselves to survive.”

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