Organized pressure to deregulate animal slaughter began several years ago in Oakland, California, the epicenter of urban homesteading. Bay area locavores have persuasively argued that deregulating animal slaughter would help alleviate the "food deserts" afflicting impoverished residents. After years of raising and slaughtering animals in quasi-legal conditions, they have successfully lobbied Oakland's planning department to recommend including animals in their new policy amendment.
As matters now stand, Oakland could very well alter its urban agriculture code in order to allow virtually any urban homesteader not only to raise goats, chickens, rabbits, and ducks, but to slaughter them on site. And what happens in Oakland -- a test case of sorts -- is bound to be replicated elsewhere.
Such a deregulatory policy might seem perfectly consistent with the locavore vision of agricultural decentralization. But it's actually a recipe for disaster. For one, just because a consumer enjoys local meat doesn't mean she has the skills required to properly slaughter and process it. As one poultry specialist explained to me, "Most amateur slaughterers don't know a carotid artery from a jugular vein."
Blogs kept by urban farmers confirm this ignorance. An account by a San Francisco farmer about killing a backyard chicken for the first time -- which she openly admitted to having no idea how to do -- has the homesteader wringing the chicken's neck repeatedly, only to find it still breathing. In the end, this women "settled on covering her nostrils with my fingers" and suffocating the bird. Needless to say, an inexpertly slaughtered animal experiences immense suffering.
A second problem with deregulating animal slaughter is that any policy making it easier for backyard enthusiasts to raise and process their own meat is automatically a policy that establishes the preconditions for more animal neglect -- the kind of neglect that locavores have long fought to end in their vehement opposition to factory farming. Proof, once again, comes from none other than the advocates of backyard slaughter themselves.
Oakland animal farm bloggers offer a litany of horrors already perpetuated on animals kept on urban farms. Readers can learn about a mother rabbit succumbing to heat stroke (and leaving behind seven kits), a chicken who dies from eating glass, ducks succumbing to rat poison, and chickens killed by invading possums -- all mishaps unique to backyard animal husbandry. The East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance argues that a deregulated environment will be "better for animals." Given their own accounts, though, it's a hard claim to stomach.
Assessments outside of the movement are just as dire. The Oakland neighbor of a backyard goat "farmer" reports listening to a goat die an agonizing, four-hour death after eating from the garbage can. A rabbit keeper was documented keeping twenty-one rabbits in absolute squalor. The abused rabbits were birthing stillborns, riddled with parasites, and suffering from broken limbs.