Petaluma, CA – Over 600 activists with the animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) are marching to a massive duck slaughterhouse (FACEBOOK LIVE), with dozens planning to lock their necks to the slaughterhouse shackles and other machinery. The facility, which has ties to farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters and slaughters 1 million ducks annually, has been the subject of numerous reports of animal cruelty, including birds with gaping wounds and collapsed on the wire floor. Despite these complaints – and damning opinions by a prominent veterinarian and a former federal prosecutor – local authorities have failed to take action against the company. The activists, who donned veterinarian-approved biosecurity gear as they entered the facility to give aid to sick and injured animals, say their actions are a necessary response to a pattern of corporate and government misconduct.
“The conditions are not normal, accepted industry practice,” former assistant US Attorney Bonnie Klapper, who reviewed undercover footage and veterinarian reports regarding the facility, said. “They are evidence of severe neglect and lack of treatment rising to the level of animal cruelty.”
Former Baywatch actress Alexandra Paul will attempt to negotiate for the rescue of any animals in need of medical care.
In the past year, dozens of activists have been arrested and charged in relation to nonviolent animal rights activism in Sonoma County. The activists say the prosecutions, which have been pushed by elected officials who take donations from agribusiness interests, are examples of the improper use of government resources to defend corporate interests. Now both a prominent criminal law scholar, UC Hastings scholar Hadar Aviram, and former federal prosecutor agree.
“When law enforcement has become aware of the existence of animal cruelty, its response has not been to address [it],” Klapper said. “To the contrary, the response has been to hunt down and arrest the rescuers and even attempt to return the injured, sick, dying animals to the agricultural facility.”
The nonviolent protest of the massive duck farm, which was previously investigated by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals in 2014, is merely the latest instance of activists taking direct action to address the cruelty of Sonoma County factory farms. In September 2018, 58 activists were arrested on felony charges for attempting to give aid to starving animals at a farm supplying Petaluma Poultry, part of the largest organic chicken producer in the nation. Despite internal government reports showing downed and starving animals at the facility, District Attorney Jill Ravitch declined to prosecute the company – and instead charged the activists with dozens of felonies.
“The government is protecting powerful corporate interests, even where those companies are engaged in unlawful, fraudulent, and tortuous practices,” DxE co-founder and former law professor Wayne Hsiung, a defendant in the Petaluma Poultry case, said. “We’re merely asking the elected officials in Sonoma County to enforce the law – including against animal-abusing corporations.”
The undue influence of animal agriculture, activists say, has led to lax regulation, the non-enforcement of animal cruelty laws, and the criminalization of acts of compassion towards animals. Now, the activists say, a grassroots movement is rising to challenge that abuse.