Playing chicken

Activists use protests and a lawsuit to push for better regulation of live poultry sales

Unlike this chicken, most of the live chickens sold at Heart of the City farmers market have had their beaks cut off

The Heart of the City farmers market in U.N. Plaza may not exude the bourgeois foodie reputation of the Ferry Plaza farmers market. It doesn't sell micro-roasted coffee or artisan cheeses, and its fountain may sometimes double as a public shower, but it does offer one product that no other San Francisco farmers market does: fresh, live poultry.

Raymond Young has sold live chickens here for two decades, showing up at dawn to set up shop and peddle his poultry to an eager throng of customers, mostly Chinese, who happily take home upwards of 600 birds per day.

But a group of animal rights activists is saying that the poultry stand is inhumane, violates health codes, and that Young's employees have infringed on their civil rights as protestors. Since April 2010, members of LGBT Compassion have been showing up in the wee hours of the morning next to Young's stand with banners, brochures, and signs promulgating the alleged cruelty of his business and seeking to block the sale of live birds. In January, protesters upped the ante when they slapped Young and the HOC market with a lawsuit alleging continuous abuse and negligence by those who supervise the market.

"For me, it was as simple as seeing the animal cruelty," said Andrew Zollman, 43, the founder and organizer of LGBT Compassion. "The cages are dilapidated and cramped, there are feces everywhere, and the chickens are shoved in plastic bags, two at a time, while they scream in fear or pain. It was like walking down the street and seeing a dog beaten — and it's really frustrating to see it happen here in San Francisco."

Zollman and fellow protester Alex Felsinger, 25, filed the lawsuit with San Francisco attorney Matt Gonzalez after months of attempts to get city officials to intervene.

The allegations have Young and market management squawking, saying that the activists are opposing a practice that is both legal and routine. They claim the protesters are overly sensitive to the treatment of the chickens simply because they can see it, and decry their tactics as an attack on a small business and cultural traditions since almost all of his customers are Asian.

"These people just don't seem to like other people's culture of selling live chicken," Young said. ""I think that what I do is right. I abide by all the health codes and animal care codes. I try to do everything I can to satisfy everyone. These protesters think they can override the law because they don't like what they see."



Zollman and Felsinger have been encouraging the city to investigate Young's stall, regularly sending videos and photos taken at Young's stall to the Department of Public Health and Animal Care and Control. But their quest to protect the chickens has been complicated by the lack of city oversight and an inability to enforce animal cruelty laws due to provisions exempting poultry.

The clash between the vociferous vegans and the poultry purveyors reached its pinnacle in late December 2010, when Felsinger claimed he was punched in the side of the head, wrapped up in a tarp, and had the memory card from his camera stolen by one of Young's employees. As painful as the altercation was, Felsinger's scuffle has helped him garner support.

Felsinger doesn't have footage of the December attack, but he and Zollman have documented several instances of alleged verbal and physical abuse by Young's employees, including anti gay statements from Young's daughter, which was the subject of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

"There is a long list of things being done to us over the past year," Felsinger said. "I never expected them to take such a violent act against me. It's not how I wanted to go about it. But it might have the end result we're looking for."


We actually do have a lot of information on Raymond Young's "farms!" The 3 huge enclosed-shed factory-farms listed on Raymond Young's health permit are not owned by him. The address in Manteca matches to Gemperle Industries, one of California's largest egg producers (live markets are a good way for them to dispose of otherwise "worthless" spent hens). An undercover investigation of one of their facilities revealed filth and cruelty so horrific, Trader Joe's fired them as supplier of their house brand eggs. The Modesto farm (the only one Mr. Young or Christine Adams acknowledge) is owned by Ching Chi Sui/C.C. & Son Farms, Inc. Christine Adams and the Stanislaus County Agricultural Commissioner claim Mr. Young rents space within the building. Modern factory farms are fully-automated, so it seems unlikely a few family members are actually raising their own birds in 3 cities, and one of their employees hinted to us that they don't. It seems that the "rental" arrangement may be an attempt to circumvent CA's direct marketing laws for farmers' markets.

Mr. Young claims that the birds' beaks are debeaked only for caging for transport - completely untrue. Intensely-confined hens kept for egg-laying have their beaks painfully trimmed off as chicks, to prevent pecking each other from the stress of overcrowding. Even with the debeaking, we have filmed birds with severely picked feathers - even one with an abcess that was confiscated by Animal Care & Control.

Additionally, these birds are of the Rhode Island Red breed, used primarily for egg production. Chickens used for commercial meat production are different breeds (broilers) designed to very quickly grow large, and are slaughtered within 2 months. Spent egg-laying hens are often much older (which is why Mr. Young wouldn't disclose their ages).

Market manager Christine Adams outright lies when she claims we don't protest the game bird vendor, Jayce Benton of Bullfeathers Quail, suggesting that it is because of his ethnicity. We have always actively protested and investigated his violations and cruelty as well, and including the information in our campaign materials and signs. We've documented him violating the market's permit's live fowl handling rules, state animal cruelty and health laws, and selling two sick, half-dead pheasants to a customer at a discount.

There are other violations not mentioned in the article:

- The market blatantly violate multiple provisions of its revocable city-issued operational permit: public health and animal welfare rules with regard to live fowl sales, and a requirement to obtain an annual safety inspection (only one has been conducted since the permit was issued in 1993). The Agricultural Commissioner agreed there were live fowl handling violations but told us the city attorney instructed him to not enforce the permit. We're trying to get an explanation from their office. The Board of Supervisors has ultimate control of the permit but has so far completely ignored us, though Jane Kim did recently promise to look into it when approached in person (we haven't heard anything more though).

- The city and market have allowed the illegal use of food stamps purchases of live animals for almost 20 years, even though livestock are ineligible purchases under USDA regulations. Raymond Young continued or continues to accept them even after officials instructed him to stop.

- Raymond Young Poultry is illegally washing feces and chlorine down the storm drains before they leave (as the Dept. of Public Health recently instructed them), polluting the Bay and potentially spreading pathogens. The city is supposed to be investigating.

- The market's Board of Directors consists primarily of vendors and has or does have a member who is a Dept. of Public Health employee, presenting conflicts of interest which may partially explain inaction by market management and city officials.

- The slaughter of some of these birds by unlicensed individuals appears to violate California's humane poultry slaughter laws, requiring the slaughter of birds only by approved methods by licensed facilities. Those laws do exempt "spent hens" and game birds (apparently to facilitate live markets such as these), but roosters and non-spent hens (which they appear to have some of) are protected. The keeping and slaughter of these birds by unsupervised individuals can be extremely cruel, even though we know that industrial slaughtering methods are also very cruel.

- These birds sometimes escape or are set free by well-meaning but misguided persons. The ones who survive become the responsibility of overburdened animal rescue facilities, including Animal Care & Control.

Posted by LGBTcompassion on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

"- The city and market have allowed the illegal use of food stamps purchases of live animals for almost 20 years, even though livestock are ineligible purchases under USDA regulations. Raymond Young continued or continues to accept them even after officials instructed him to stop.

- Raymond Young Poultry is illegally washing feces and chlorine down the storm drains before they leave (as the Dept. of Public Health recently instructed them), polluting the Bay and potentially spreading pathogens. The city is supposed to be investigating."


The city has various rules for every group, bitching here at this late date is comical. Standards are fluid here at the Bay Guardian.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 12:41 am

really angry.

Posted by marke on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 7:15 am

rears its head

Posted by matlock on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 8:55 am

The customers' bags, which often have feces on the outsides (as can be seen in this video, are commonly carried through public areas in addition to the food area of the market: on BART and Muni (against their rules), restaurants (against health laws), and even into public housing for persons with HIV/AIDS.

The feces and litter - both wet and dry - of factory-farmed animals such as these are potential vectors for dangerous pathogens, including salmonella, toxoplasmosis and histoplasmosis. They are responsible for the creation of pandemics such as H1N1 (which one of my friends with HIV died from). Children and persons with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable. In addition to feces on the ground and on bags, the horrible stench that surrounds their operation could be a sign that the public is being exposed to airborne pathogens.

The California Department of Agriculture tells us that they do not test these animals for any pathogens except avian influenza.

It's shocking and disturbing that the City of San Francisco subsidizes and supports this, and that the Department of Public Health continues to insist that the violations are under control when they're very clearly not.

Posted by LGBTcompassion on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 12:09 am

When you are passing the bong do you concern yourself with mono?

Posted by matlock on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 12:48 am

Good job on the article , Heather.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

Please watch this short video of market manager Christine Adams assaulting a customer who had purchased live birds from Raymond Young Poultry, then entered the food area of the market (against state health laws).

It's really sad to see people routinely humiliated this way, especially when they don't always understand why they can't bring live animals in the market. I've complained to city officials before.

Security guards don't start their shift until hours after the market starts, and so while we're investigating, Christine tries to block live bird customers from entering the market by herself - but customers easily re-enter or slip by her. When she sees us filming them, she throws them out. She and other market personnel have always been too physical with them and so we've suggested that she not touch them, which she dismissed. She's been getting more physical, and we have other footage of inappropriate force that we'll soon compile and post to our YouTube account:

It just doesn't make sense for the city to allow live animal sales within the same farmers' market where they're not allowed under state health laws, knowing that there's no way for the market to comply with the laws - and creating situations like this, and where security personnel are unable to perform their real jobs because they're instead harassing customers.

Posted by LGBTcompassion on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

I wonder what you would call a real assault, murder? a single murder becomes genocide?

I find it so odd that the modern left was born being against the establishment, now that they have a few pissing grounds they are worse than the establishment ever was.

Posted by matllock on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

grabbing someone by the arm so firmly that when they pull away they fall hard on their back is assault. the woman was clearly scared and had no idea who was grabbing her arm or why. was that a real question?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 10:08 am

and no it wasn't "assault."

Posted by matlock on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 10:42 am

Locking birds in cages is genocide

LGBT Compassion deserves the Medal of Freedom for standing up for chicken rights.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 7:56 am

If you have seen the way these protesters act at the market you would consider it harassment and assault if it was done to you.

The protesters failed to mention how they tried to extort the market and chicken vendor out of tens of thousands of dollars in a court mitigation but ended getting a far less settlement then they wanted, that is why they are still there.

If it is about animal cruelty, why did the protesters ask for 20 thousand each from the farmers market association and the chicken vendor in order to leave the market.

They seem to be nothing but a bunch of extortionist in my opinion. All about the money!!!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

20 k each from each chicken vendor and the market is what they want. Nothing but extortion.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

In a complaint filed with the Human Rights Commission for anti-gay statements made by Raymond Young's daughter and employee, he and the market were both asked to make donations to Larkin Street Youth Services' HIV prevention and Castro Youth Outreach programs (nothing to the protestors) as a possible settlement, as well as undergo LGBT sensitivity training. This would have allowed them to avoid being investigated and possibly prosecuted by the city attorney for violations of city discrimination laws.

The mediation process has been shelved to allow the recent lawsuit to proceed. The market manager Christine Adams was quite confused about this for a while, and somehow thought there was somehow going to be a negotiation regarding our protests - but it only had to do with anti-gay discrimination.

Any settlement with the HRC would not have resulted in changes to our protest activities at the market, and we would never sell out - our goal is to protect the animals and public health, not to make money.

After a Raymond Young employee and his daughter wrapped one volunteer in tarp, punched him (knocking him to the ground) then stole his camera, while he was simply trying to film the uncovered cages, the lawsuit became necessary to protect us from the continued and escalating violence and civil rights violations. The lawsuit is still in progress, and any damages will be awarded by the court or jury as appropriate.

We always act professionally and lawfully at the market - as you know if you've actually observed us. Of course, some vendors and customers do not like us exercising our free speech rights by documenting their illegal activities, and showing noisy video of the live bird vendors' cruelty in the main part of the market.

Posted by LGBTcompassion on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

What an amazing sense of entitlement.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 11:47 am

It's funny how you didn't save the video or decide to show the one where one of your fellow protesters pushed and shoved down one of the customers of Raymond young at the market. Wasn't the police called out to protect you from all the customers who defended that lady?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 11:05 am

They get to torment people because they have a different culture, but their own is off limits.

"Listen ching chong we don't like your cultures history of food prep and we are going to harass you endlessly, but when you return the favor we are going to cry to the city."

"whah, I'm an entitled SF loon, I am your better, if you don't like it I will cry to the city"

Posted by matlock on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 11:52 am

The only event I can even imagine you are referring to is from the morning of January 12, since that is the only time any of Raymond's customers have physically confronted us. No protester has ever pushed or shoved down *anyone*, and outside of this random comment no one has ever accused us of doing so.

On that morning, we held a protest in the vendors' illegal parking space (outside of the market's permitted area) and the long line of customers were not happy that the sales were being delayed by our protest. Several of Raymond's customers surrounded the protesters and began yelling for us to go away. I recorded the entire altercation from the side and shared the video with police. From the video, we identified a man who shoved a female protester but she declined to press charges and instead asked the police to issue him a formal warning.

The protesters are non-violent and, even in times when attacked or pushed, do not fight or push back. We are there protesting violence toward animals and would never resort to violence ourselves.

Posted by Alex on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

First off I would like to say I totally agree with the protesters on the animal cruelty part, but I disagree on their methods of protesting.

The chickens in a cramped filthy cage and then into a bag is quite disturbing to see.

What I disagree is on their methods of protesting. Having a camera on a pole and sticking it into the vendors space of work or blocking them from arriving into the market is border line harassment and trespassing.

I would respect their actions a lot more if you protest in a peaceful way. What they do would provoke anyone doing business out there to get angry and do something stupid.

Please do not past out information and lecture people on becoming vegan. It's a choice you made and a choice I respect, but don't push your views onto others.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 11:42 am

"Having a camera on a pole and sticking it into the vendors space of work or blocking them from arriving into the market is border line harassment and trespassing."

It is neither, but rather a simple example of exercising 1st amendment rights on public property. Also, our protests have never interfered with their ability to set up within the market during the permitted hours.

"I would respect their actions a lot more if you protest in a peaceful way."

We have consistently conducted our protests in a peaceful manner. We would never lay a hand on another person or their property. Unfortunately we can't say the same about Raymond Young's employees or the market's manager.

"Please do not past out information and lecture people on becoming vegan. It's a choice you made and a choice I respect, but don't push your views onto others."

I fail to see how passing out brochures is pushing views onto others. It's the most basic and time-honored form of sharing ideas and starting conversations in public. Anyone who is not interested is free to reject the brochure, return it to us, or simply walk away.

Posted by Alex on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

I'm glad you agree with the animal cruelty.

To clarify, filming inside their workspace is not actually part of our protesting - it's necessary to investigate and document their continued violations of the market's permit's live fowl handling rules and state health and animal cruelty laws. They are desperately attempting to hide their violations behind tarps, and we need to document them to publicize and report the violations to authorities.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with blocking them from illegally setting up. The market's permit doesn't take effect until 6:00 and they park outside of the permitted area - so they are violating multiple Park Code laws, while we always have the rights to those areas under free speech laws. I am certainly not allowed to park a vehicle in a public park and sell prohibited animals without a permit, and neither should they.

Peoples' use of animals such as these for food directly contributes to this problem - these animals are by-product of the egg industry (they're "spent hens"), and the financial/political clout of animal agribusiness is why officials refuse to enforce cruelty laws or pass new laws to protect them. It is certainly appropriate to inform people who care about animals that veganism is the simplest way to avoid harming them, as well as the environment and human health. You always have the choice of ignoring that information. If you feel pressured by it, then that's an issue within yourself. And we never lecture people, but many people ask us questions and for more information about veganism and we're happy to discuss it with them.

Posted by LGBTcompassion on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

the fringe right.

Reading the articles and these defenses of this nutty behavior, the lefts answer to anti-abortion protesters and their thankless and self appointed job of saving us.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 20, 2011 @ 7:23 am

I don't get it. I don't see why some people won't leave others alone.

The chicken people have customers, because the customers appreciate their services. Asian, American, Black, White, It shouldn't matter what the color, ethnicity or cultures are. Personally, shouting with a bullhorn and using camera poles isn't really peaceful protest in my opinion. It's rude, disrespectful and ruining people's moods no matter what they came to buy at the market.

I have no issues with the LGBT group really. I just don't think the protesters understand the poorer people's issues. We don't have the time or money to be vegan. These chickens are cheaper, and more filling than your vegan stuff - not to mention it's a part of most people's culture. I just wished the LGBT protestors would concentrate the same energy on ending poverty and drug use in the city. It would be much more useful than fighting over the rights of chickens, which most people in the world eat anyway.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2011 @ 1:45 am

People who are engaging in illegal animal cruelty and other violations of local, state and federal laws should not be left alone - and race, ethnicity, or class is not an excuse to engage in such behaviors (by the way, the protestors are also of varying races, ethnicities and classes). I myself have been poor, hungry and struggling - as well as oppressed because of my minority status as a gay person.

We don't use bullhorns - why do you think that? And "peaceful" means no violence - playing video footage, wearing signs, offering brochures, and videotaping violations is clearly peaceful. Some of the vendors and public don't like our message, but that's part of protesting to bring social reform.

There's no class barrier to being vegan. Just like poor people in many countries traditionally have eaten mostly vegan foods (beans, grains, vegetables and fruits), those are the cheapest, healthiest, and most nutrient-dense foods available. Much cheaper and healthier than a 6-dollar unhealthy, factory-farmed spent hen, which is not even eligible for purchase with food stamps. And a healthy vegan diet will likely save you money in health expenses, as explained in this article from MSN Money

The Tenderloin has many low-income people living with HIV or AIDS - it's wonderful that this market brings fresh, healthy, affordable produce to them, but at the same time they're potentially being exposed to dangerous pathogens from the feces from these factory-farmed animals. There's no excuse for the city supporting and subsidizing this.

Just because there are other problems in the city doesn't mean that the problems surrounding live bird sales are OK, or that they should be ignored - that doesn't make any sense. And that's why there are animal cruelty and public health laws. Would you criticize someone volunteering to help shelter dogs and cats for not volunteering their time instead to feed hungry people or fight drug abuse? Also, there are people and agencies working on the problems you describe, but no one else working on these issues.

Posted by LGBTcompassion on Feb. 20, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

Why do we never see you protesting in Chinatown where they sell live chicken. How come you don't follow the other bird guy to the Oakland Market on Friday when you seem to follow Raymond young to the Richmond market.

It seems you just concentrate your protest on one individual business. The other bird vendor seems to face far less criticism.

Why not protest the farms who provide them with the chicken? Cut them at their source....

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

Though we'd like to fight cruelty on all fronts, we have very limited time and resources as we are all volunteers and have jobs and other responsibilities. We're currently focusing on the farmers' markets live bird vendors as they're subsidized by taxpayer money, because of the high volume of sales, and the relative openness of the operations that allow us to document violations for the public and officials, and the health violations inherent in selling animals alongside food. They also bring no economic benefit to the city as the vendors bring their money back to the Central Valley - which adds to the political ease of the city being able to ban them.

Regardless of what Christine Adams claims, we have always strongly protested Bullfeathers Quail - but he only operates in S.F. one day a week and his violations usually aren't as severe. We had suspicions he operated in Oakland but haven't yet organized protests and investigations, but will do so - thanks for the tip!

We are definitely also against the known extreme cruelty (including butchering animals while conscious) and public health problems (SPCA-ordered necropsies on frogs and turtles showed routine infections of E. coli, salmonella, pasturella, blood parasites, giardia, even one case of malaria) with the Chinatown markets, as well as the environmental problems with importing frogs and turtles from outside California. Another major social problem with these markets is that misguided people often buy and release these animals (not realizing that these domestic breeds cannot survive on their own and will suffer, and can also create environmental problems due to pathogens and being non-native species). They then become a burden to local animal rescue organizations. There is even one dedicated primarily to King pigeons from these markets

Investigating and protesting the Chinatown markets is a whole different ballgame, and may expose us to much greater personal dangers and greater political pushback because they are actually local businesses. They also take great precautions to prevent video investigations and current cruelty laws regarding live market frogs and turtles are toothless and not enforced. It doesn't mean that we won't, but the farmers' markets are larger and simpler problems to deal with first. We are also working on changing laws specific to all live animal markets.

We and other activists do fight cruelty, public health problems and environmental destruction from factory farms, such as this undercover investigation of an egg factory owned by one of Raymond Young's suppliers However, protesting outside remote farms in agriculture-based communities (where no one would see us except the employees), or conducting undercover investigations is extremely time-consuming and dangerous - as well as not very effective, as we would not be able to directly shut down a corporate factory farm.

Posted by LGBTcompassion on Feb. 21, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

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