Playing chicken - Page 2

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

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

Christine Adams, manager of the HOC market since it first opened in 1981, has consistently defended Young and called the lawsuit "completely outrageous."

"This is a market, and if they (Young's crew) were illegal, they would have been booted," she said. "I have done nothing wrong; Raymond has done nothing wrong. I'm not worried at all about the lawsuit."

Adams said that while she had not been personally affected by the protesting in the past, she did not approve of Zollman and Felsinger's actions and attributed a decline in live poultry sales to their presence.

"Their sales have gone down considerably," Adams said. "They used to sell more than 1,000 birds a day and now it's more like 600 or 700. I think it's definitely because of the protesters. People don't like to be followed through a market and have a camera shoved in their face just because they bought a live chicken."

 

GATHERING EVIDENCE

Almost every market day, Zollman and Felsinger would show up to protest and take video and still photography of Young's stall. They have posted numerous videos and photos to their group's website (lgbtcompassion.org) — the same ones they say they send to DPH and ACC — documenting the conditions at Young's stall.

The DPH makes routine inspections twice per year to the market. In November, Zollman, Young, and Adams held a meeting with principal environmental health inspector Lisa O'Malley to address issues of sanitation, handling, and guidelines for bringing live animals near food. The department says the vendor is operating within guidelines.

"There were some problems in the past, but they've been fixed," O'Malley told us, naming a few instances of inadequate removal of chicken feces from the area and improper hand-washing as past problems. She said the challenge was maintaining the guidelines, the most difficult of which is making sure people do not walk through the market after purchasing their birds. Health codes prohibit animals from being within 20 feet of food. The primary concern is contamination from fecal matter, which could cause illnesses such as Salmonella poisoning.

O'Malley walks by the market regularly because of its proximity to her office and says all operations seem compliant. At the same time, official enforcement and inspection is limited to the Public Health Department's semi-annual visits. This means the only people watching over the operations of the stall and customers are the security guards, who don't start working until two and half hours after the market opens, long after prime time for buying live chickens.

 

CULTURE CLASH

Young stands by his actions and said he is not guilty of any wrongdoing. The activists criticize him for practices such as cutting off the tips of the chickens' beaks, but Young said he only does this to prevent fighting injuries sustained when they are caged for transport and sale, a common practice for any chicken farmer.

In their pamphlets and the lawsuit, the activists claim that the poultry is a "collection of 'spent' live chickens (those who are no longer productive egg layers) from large Central Valley farms," according to the suit. But Young contests that characterization and the activists can't produce credible evidence of the birds' age or origins.

"They don't know how old my birds are. They don't know how I care for them," Young said, refusing to tell us how old the chickens are. "They just assume. What's the difference between Safeway chicken and my chicken? They were all alive at one time, but you see mine."

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