For two decades, Modesto-based Raymond Young Poultry has been a fixture at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market at UN Plaza, selling live chickens for food. But in recent years, animal-rights activists also have become fixtures at the popular downtown bazaar.
The controversy: Activists object to the treatment of the chickens. The protesters allege the fowl live in their own filth, are packed tightly into cages and are stuffed into paper or plastic grocery bags for customers.
But the Youngs say they are doing nothing wrong and that the activists are scaring away customers with their protest signs and video cameras.
“We just do what the health department tells us, and they just keep complaining and complaining and complaining,” said Christina Ly, daughter of owner Raymond Young.
Andrew Zollman of LGBT Compassion, a group of Bay Area animal advocates, said he has picketed the Youngs at nearly every market since April 2009. Zollman and fellow activists have posted videos on the Internet of the vendors aggressively handling the birds.
“We’ve continued to document serious violations regarding feces in public areas and live food being brought within 20 feet of the market area and customers,” Zollman said.
But city health officials and the market’s manager say the Youngs are not breaking any rules.
During a routine inspection June 16, officials with the San Francisco Department of Public Health found violations at the market, but said it took only a week for the Youngs to clean up their act.
Market manager Christine Adams said the activists are not only disruptive to the Youngs, but to other vendors as well.
“These people come from Merced or Death Valley — all they want to do is sell their product,” Adams said. “Zollman is looking for anything to stop those chicken [sellers].”
The Youngs say their chickens come from their family farm in Modesto. The birds are trucked in by the hundreds to the Sunday and Wednesday markets. They cost $6 apiece, and $11.50 for two. The clientele is mostly Asian.
“I understand the cultural issues,” Zollman said. “It doesn’t change the fact that what they are doing is illegal. Cruelty to animals is cruelty. It doesn’t matter who’s doing it.”
Ly said the chickens are meant to be sold to eat, though she figures some are bought for their eggs. Ly said the activists have caused chicken sales to decline 30 percent.They used to sell 900 chickens each day, but the protests have dropped their sales numbers to 600 or 700, Ly said. Zollman called that a victory, saying he wants to stifle sales until the Youngs are forced to close up shop.
Coming home to roost
9 billion chickens consumed in America each year
300,000 people employed in chicken-processing plants nationwide
35.8 billion pounds of chicken produced in 2005
120 calories in one grilled skinless chicken breast
Sources: USDA, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association