Oakland is a national leader in urban farming, with a large number of residents engaged in activities that run the gamut from growing vegetables to making jams. With this movement as a backdrop, the city of Oakland's Planning Department is revising the city's agriculture guidelines.
Recent proposals to modify the code, however, raise serious questions about whether Oakland residents should now be allowed to breed, keep and slaughter animals like chickens, rabbits and goats in their backyards.
We should respond to these questions with a simple answer: Don't do it.
Let me be clear that there is absolutely no question that we should embrace regulations and programs that help Oakland residents grow their own produce -- especially when so many do not have access to healthful foods. However, it is wrong to believe that the backyard keeping and slaughter of animals is anything but a threat to the health and well-being of our community.
In a poll from Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter, of which I am a founder, we learned that an overwhelming number of Oakland residents in Districts 1 and 3 -- where urban farming is most common -- agree that backyard breeding and slaughter should not be permitted.
More than 50 percent of those polled said they are opposed to the "breeding, keeping, and slaughter" of animals. The percentage increased to 60 percent or more in ZIP codes most directly affected by the impacts of urban livestock.
As Oakland explores new regulations on urban agriculture, city officials should acknowledge the strong opposition to backyard slaughter.
Apart from the overwhelming opposition of residents to this hobby, there are a number of health, animal welfare and fiscal reasons why the breeding and slaughter of animals in Oakland's backyards should remain illegal.
The urban environment means we are in proximity to our neighbors, which is fantastic because it creates camaraderie. But when the raising and slaughtering of animals occurs in an urban setting, it can lead to exposure to viruses, pathogens, and diseases as well as blight and noise.
If backyard livestock is permitted, Oakland residents will be susceptible to the risks associated with exposure to animals in compressed urban spaces.
Allowing backyard slaughter will also put animals at risk of inhumane treatment. As stated in the city of Oakland's own draft agricultural plan, those who raise livestock in their backyard as a hobby are typically unaware of how to properly care for or slaughter their animals. Because enforcement of regulations and training of city officials would be prohibitively expensive, it would be difficult to ensure that animals are protected from inhumane treatment in the hands of so-called slaughter hobbyists.
Oakland should maintain the prohibition on backyard slaughter because it does not have the funds to ensure that the care and slaughter of backyard animals is done safely and humanely.
This could result in staff not being sufficiently trained or not having the resources to respond to resident's concerns. Whose budget will be cut to develop and enforce training and regulation? We already can't care for abandoned pets in our city.
When it comes to backyard livestock, residents have made their opposition clear. It is now up to city officials to listen to their constituents and ensure their safety and well-being.
Tim Anderson is a resident of Oakland and a co-founder of Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter, an organization that seeks to promote healthful, sustainable and humane urban agriculture. To learn more, go to www.noslaughter.org.