Sonoma County farm officials, animal welfare activists expect more showdowns

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After a massive animal welfare rally this week at a Petaluma egg farm, both Sonoma County farm leaders and a Bay Area animal rights activist foresee more showdowns at local ranches and livestock production facilities.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s peaceful demonstration, where 40 activists were arrested, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau is planning to offer new training to farmers who may face similar standoffs.

“We need to help our members understand what to do when an animal rights demonstration happens on their property,” said Farm Bureau Executive Director Tawny Tesconi. “We’re being asked to react to something we haven’t had to react to before.”

Cassie King, an organizer with Berkeley-based Direct Action Everywhere, which sponsored Tuesday’s protest, suggested that those who share her views will return to the county in an ongoing effort to bring an end to the confinement and killing of animals for agriculture.

“As long as abuses are going unchecked, activists will continue to take these actions themselves,” said King, who graduated in May from UC Berkeley.

King was among those arrested on suspicion of trespassing Tuesday at a Liberty Road egg farm that also houses the offices of Sunrise Farms, a major North Bay egg producer. An estimated 500 demonstrators appeared there, making it one of the largest animal welfare protests ever held at a farm or food production facility in the county.

Not surprisingly, both sides Thursday spoke of engaging the public as a key part of building support for their positions.

“We need to do a better job educating consumers,” said Tesconi. The farm bureau’s message should be that farmers treat animals humanely and livestock production remains an important component of the nation’s food supply.

“There wouldn’t be all these farm animals if there wasn’t a need to feed the country and the world,” she said.

In contrast, King maintained the public has “a vast disconnect” between their opposition to animal cruelty and their diet. She said that disconnect is partly aided by misleading labeling and marketing that touts “humane” farm practices.

The animal activists hope to eventually gain laws that safeguard such animals’ lives by “giving all species the same protection that humans have now,” King said. Her strategy entails “shining a light on what’s happening” in farms in order to “connect the public’s own values to their choices.”

King called Tuesday’s demonstration “our largest mass open rescue.” Before sheriff’s deputies arrived, activists carried off 37 hens, all of which survived but one, she said.

None of those arrested reside in the county, Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum. Many were from Berkeley, others came from North Carolina, Colorado, Wisconsin and even Vancouver, British Columbia.

The demonstration and the process of arresting and booking the 40 individuals was peaceful, he reiterated.

“We had very good cooperation and communication from the group leaders the whole time,” said Crum.

King said those arrested received dates to appear in court in June.

Disagreement continued Thursday over whether the activists’ entrance into the laying barns risked contaminating hens held there. King said the activists who entered the barns were dressed in coveralls, booties and gloves and all took the “utmost security measures.”

Nonetheless, Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar said “the concerns of the farmer in this case are very well warranted.”

Linegar said it concerned him that such demonstrations on farms could make it more difficult “to maintain these types of operations in Sonoma County.”

He noted that egg production remains a significant farm sector here. County operations contain nearly 17 percent of the state’s laying hens, he said. A 2015 crop report said the county produces about 30 million dozen eggs per year.

“When I say it’s an important part of agriculture, that’s what I’m talking about,” Linegar said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or On Twitter @rdigit.

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