Bay Area activist group back at Petaluma Poultry facility, removes 18 chickens it says reflect cruel conditions

Representatives of Direct Action Everywhere, which claimed responsibility for the actions on social media Tuesday, made off with 18 chickens. Their actions, the latest in a series of similar events, are being investigated.|

Three teams of activists came by dark to the Petaluma Poultry processing plant. They dressed in garb similar to that of employees to go undetected.

They intercepted an incoming flatbed truck and made off with live chickens being transported to the Lakeville Highway slaughterhouse, Sonoma County’s largest such facility.

This wasn’t the first time they had struck — four are currently facing criminal charges for alleged burglaries of Sonoma County poultry farms.

Members of Berkeley-based Direct Action Everywhere, an activist group whose mission is to spotlight what they believe to be animal cruelty, protested in front of Petaluma Poultry beginning in the early morning hours Tuesday.

They objected to what they described as abysmal conditions at Petaluma Poultry and several of its suppliers.

Representatives of the group, which claimed responsibility for the actions on social media later Tuesday, said most of the birds — 18 in total — had been removed from a flatbed truck that delivered chickens for slaughter. Its driver had already departed, they said.

Seven were from another truck that was intercepted at a nearby intersection en route to the 50-plus-year-old company, owned by meat giant Perdue Farms Inc. The truck’s driver became enraged and reportedly sped off, running a red light to get free of the activists.

Mike Levengood, chief animal care officer for Perdue Farms, said in a statement to The Press Democrat that trespassers had put “associates, animals and themselves (protesters) in harm’s way.”

“As an industry leader in animal care, Perdue maintains an open dialogue with credible animal welfare organizations, and we continue to learn from each other in a constructive way for the continuous improvement of animal care,” Levengood said in his statement.

“Their (the protesters’) actions on our property were not only dangerous and illegal, but unwarranted and grossly misinformed.”

Direct Action Everywhere members disagree.

Many of the chickens had scratches, scabs and lacerations on their bodies — a condition not observed during previous actions — as well as a painful footpad infection known as “bumblefoot,” one longtime activist said.

At least three were found later to have high fevers, said the woman, Zoe Rosenberg, a Cal Berkeley student from San Luis Obispo.

The Press Democrat was not able to confirm the conditions of the animals.

The protest, which eventually amassed 200 or more protesters, is among numerous unauthorized entries to commercial poultry operations in Sonoma County involving Petaluma Poultry, purveyor of Rosie Organic and Rocky Free Range chickens sold widely at major groceries and food retailers.

Direct Action Everywhere members said unauthorized entry is legally defensible if it’s necessary to save lives, as in the case where someone breaks a car window to rescue an overheated dog inside.

“We have repeatedly reported Petaluma Poultry,” but no one has taken action to protect the birds, Rosenberg said. “We have the right to take action to save those sick birds.”

Though a small number of people were part of the original entry at the facility, which occurred about 12:30 a.m., other like-minded people attending an Animal Liberation Conference in Berkeley this week caught wind and headed to the site to support the action until about 200 were assembled, Rosenberg said.

Most of them later headed north to Santa Rosa and the Sonoma County Hall of Justice to protest the refusal of local law enforcement to prosecute Petaluma Poultry and its suppliers despite what Direct Action press liaison Alison Morikawa Barnard contends is “substantial evidence of animal cruelty” at their facilities.

Dayna Ghirardelli, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, said she was alerted to Tuesday’s incident and was aware of the Berkeley conference at which Direct Action Everywhere demonstrated tactics for open rescue.

“Regardless of the situation it’s trespassing and theft,” she said, adding that demonstrators “don’t have cause, especially in this case.”

She said she understood the birds taken “were actually in good shape,” though laypeople may not appreciate how poultry chickens are raised.

“It looks good for the extremists and the animal activities on camera, and they can do whatever they want to it,” Ghirardelli said.

And while it’s possible there are bad actors in the poultry business, “I can tell you that the majority of producers don’t have the stomach for bad actors.”

Petaluma Poultry “is held to the industry standard. They adhere to the industry standard, and likely go above.”

“It’s theft. It’s trespassing,” she said of the action, “and ultimately when they enter into barns, they are introducing bacteria, and they are putting the entire flock at risk.”

State law allows for the “necessity defense” in cases where a defendant can establish specific facts. They include significant bodily harm or evil to him or herself or another; where there is no adequate legal alternative; the act did not create a greater danger than the one avoided; the person believed the act was necessary; a reasonable person also would have believed the action necessary; and the defendant did not contribute to the emergency, according to the Judicial Council of California.

Criminal charges are pending against four Direct Action members arrested in connection with 2018 and 2019 actions at two Petaluma poultry farms.

Three face trial on felony charges of second-degree burglary, theft, conspiracy, trespassing and unlawful assembly.

“We’ve investigated time and time again,” Morikawa Barnard said. “No matter which facility we go into in this case — we’re talking specifically about Petaluma Poultry — we gather more evidence showing that criminal animal cruelty is happening, and we continue to ask authorities to do something.”

Rosenberg said the activists were wearing protective “biosecurity” clothing, including surgical masks, gloves and hairnets, to blend in with workers and to try to prevent spread of disease in a setting they believed already had many infectious birds.

She said law enforcement arrived about two minutes after the last five birds were driven away.

Petaluma police Lt. Garrett Glaviano said police have opened a criminal investigation into the breach. He could not confirm how many chickens were taken.

Authorities were alerted to intruders on the property at 2:26 a.m., Glaviano said, and found about 200 people on the sidewalk, peacefully protesting in front of the facility.

But, he said, eight or 10 people breached security and got onto the property.

Glaviano said the protest dispersed about 9 a.m., which is when most of the demonstrators headed north.

The incident followed an April 23 entry into a Petaluma Poultry farm during which two distressed chickens were removed, both of them sickly and injured, Rosenberg and Morikawa Barnard said.

One was stuck on her back and likely suffocating from the weight of her body, said Rosenberg, who took part in the action. She had a bloodied wing and “screamed out” when touched, she said.

The other was too weak to stand. Both had high temperatures and infections, and the second, a male, had parasites, as well, the two women said.

Left unable to get to food and water, Morikawa Barnard said, chickens “slowly die from starvation and dehydration, which is also a violation of California Penal Code 597,” state law prohibiting animal abuse and cruelty.

In September 2018, an action at what was then McCoy’s Poultry Services in Petaluma resulted in the removal of 15 chickens — six of them dead and nine alive. The birds were seized by police and turned over to Sonoma County Animal Care and Control.

Director Brian Whipple on Tuesday confirmed the validity of a case report made upon examination of those nine birds, later turned over to the District Attorney’s Office. Direct Action Everywhere also has a copy of the report posted on its website, though the name of the examiner is redacted.

Case Report, Sonoma County Animal Services

It describes chickens unable to stand, vocalizing in distress, missing feathers and skin, as well as signs of cannibalism among some of the dead.

Whipple said he was unaware of any action taken as result.

“There have been a series of rescues taking place in Sonoma County, due to Sonoma County authorities’ refusal to take action,” Rosenberg said.

Leaving Sonoma County on Tuesday with four live birds, “my eyes started to well up with tears, because these four birds are safe,” she said. “These four are going to get the care that is needed and hopefully live the lives they deserve.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB. You can reach Staff Writer Sara Edwards at 707-521-5487 or sara.edwards@pressdemocrat. com. On Twitter @sedwards380.

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