Animal welfare group turns in signatures to Sonoma County registrar in bid to get ‘factory farming’ measure on ballot

An animal rights group in Sonoma County has gathered signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that aims to phase out so-called factory farming in the area.|

Animal welfare activists are a step closer to getting an initiative on the Sonoma County November ballot that would put an end to what they call factory farming — a definition vehemently contested by local agricultural operations.

On Monday morning, Sarah Van Mantgem, of Windsor, and Kristina Garfinkel, of Santa Rosa, both volunteers with the grassroots Coalition to End Factory Farming, hand-carried a plastic tub of signature forms into the county’s Registrar of Voters as supporters looked on.

The initiative they and other members of the coalition propose would phase out medium- and large-sized “concentrated agricultural feeding operations,” or CAFOs, in Sonoma County. The definition of a CAFO includes animals stabled or confined for 45 days or more in any 12-month period. The size of the farms that stand to be out of compliance would vary by animal and according to how they discharge manure.

Examples include farms with 700 or more dairy cattle, or 200+ dairy cattle if the facilities discharge manure directly into surface water; and 55,000 or more turkeys, or 16,500+ turkeys if there is direct discharge into surface water. The calculation for chickens is more complex, with the lower threshold ranging from 9,000 to 125,000 depending on how waste is disposed of.

The organizers note that the definitions of CAFOs used in the ballot initiative come directly from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Local farmers insist they are misleading, and that none of Sonoma County’s dairies or egg farms are true factory farms.

“Just to be certified organic, my cows have to be pastured for a minimum of 120 days,” Doug Beretta, owner of Beretta Family Organic Dairy, told The Press Democrat. “We pasture for close to 200 days in a good year. We don’t lock our cows in the barn because we want to. It’s to preserve water quality and preserve our pastures.”

The Coalition to End Factory Farming, which says it is made up of more than 30 environmental and animal-protection organizations, collected 37,168 signatures, county registrar Deva Proto confirmed; they need 19,746 verified signatures to move forward with the initiative process.

Proto’s office has 30 business days to do a raw count of signatures and randomly sample 3% of them, Proto said. Because of the timing, she added, with the animal welfare activists dropping off signatures on the eve of a primary election, it’s likely the registrar will need most of that time to complete the first phase.

Based on the results of the random sample, the petition will either pass, fail or go to a full signature check. If it goes to the full check, Proto’s team will have an additional 60 business days to complete it.

If the coalition ultimately has enough valid signatures, the initiative will head to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The board can either adopt it as an ordinance or submit it to voters in the next statewide election or a special election.

Until the ordinance is either passed or defeated, or perhaps even after that, it promises to be an emotional, divisive and well-funded issue in Sonoma County.

The two sides could scarcely be further apart in worldview.

“This initiative is directly aligned with the Sonoma County Five-Year Strategic Plan, which aims to address climate resiliency and public health,” Garfinkel said in an email statement. Garfinkel is president of Farm Animal, Climate & Environmental Stewards (FACES) of Sonoma County. She added that, “leaders and residents alike want to enact proactive policies that address the root causes of climate change, protect our clean air and water, and cease mass-scale animal cruelty.”

Meanwhile, Sonoma County Farm Bureau leaders say the ordinance is powered by the group Direct Action Everywhere, which they label “an animal rights terrorist organization,” and that the measure “would have catastrophic impacts on our local economy, consumer access to locally sourced foods, and sets a dangerous precedent for other animal agriculture producers throughout Sonoma County.”

The Coalition to End Factory Farming has estimated two dozen local agricultural facilities would be affected by the size requirements. The Farm Bureau, in contrast, said in a release that the measure “would put hundreds of family farmers out of business,” including iconic local brands such as Clover Sonoma, Straus Family Creamery and Petaluma Poultry.

“This means the death of (iconic brand characters) Clo the Cow and Rosie and Rocky the Free-Range Chickens,” the bureau said in its release.

NOTE: The original version of this story didn’t adequately describe the size thresholds for defining CAFOs. It has been updated to include a distinction based on manure being discharged directly into surface water.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or On X (Twitter) @Skinny_Post.

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