Should vegans be exempt from California’s mandatory drought cutbacks?
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All of God's creatures have rights, a fact that most people don't seem to recognize. This includes both human and non-human animals, but not all of them can speak for themselves. As we continue to disregard the value of the lives of the billions of animals we eat, we also are destroying our air, land and water.


lauren Ornelas, Food Empowerment Project
April 2015

California drought
Downtown Petaluma, CA, April 2015

Should vegans be exempt from California’s mandatory drought cutbacks?

Maybe we should.

The Governor of California issued statewide mandatory water reductions, and although I have not read them closely, I know that many people are taking him to task, as they do not limit the amount of water farmers use.

But I wonder—what about the slaughterhouses? As another huge water consumer, are they being forced to cut back? I ask this because the slaughterhouse Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) has been working to draw attention to what has been permitted to expand by the Petaluma Planning Department.

As part of the international Save movement, F.E.P. started Sonoma County Chicken Save, which organizes a monthly outreach in front of a chicken slaughterhouse. We have been there every month since October to make sure that people do not drive by and forget whose lives are being taken behind those walls.

Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and California Public Records Act, we have been trying to get information about this slaughterhouse—Petaluma Poultry. I should note that Petaluma Poultry is actually owned by Perdue.

I did a FOIA request because I wanted information on how many birds they are killing a day, as well as how many birds they are boiling alive.

I did the open records request as I wanted to know how much water they were using. I made my request in September—long before the Governor’s announcement. Why? Because I know that slaughterhouses use a tremendous amount of water. Through some research, I was able to determine that some of the water they use comes from a private well and the rest comes from the City of Petaluma. I felt that the residents of Petaluma should know how much of their water is being used and if Petaluma Poultry had done anything different due to the drought.

When I got the FOIA records back, some answers were withheld.

It seems that, for some reason, Petaluma Poultry felt it might put them at a competitive disadvantage if they revealed how many birds they boil alive? Ummm….right, because their competitors are really interested in how many innocent birds are going to be thrown in a scalding tank of water while they are still breathing?

I have a feeling it was more they didn’t want animal advocates to know. They know damn well why we want to know—because we feel everyone should know.

We contacted folks at the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and one of their attorneys filed an appeal on our behalf. The USDA is still considering that appeal.

We were denied some information on our open records request on the water used at this facility, but we were granted access to view some, which we did.

In 2012, they were using more than 315,000 gallons of water per day.

(This does not include the amount of water used to raise these gentle birds for food who are actually just babies.)

The drought didn’t just start this year, or last year.

And this year, the planning department in Petaluma APPROVED the slaughterhouse’s request to expand. Yup, in a drought they approved the expansion of a huge water consumer.

I gathered a group of our supporters and residents of Petaluma to attend a City Council meeting and speak out against the expansion during the public-comment period. When the City Attorney was asked by a City Council member about this expansion, he said the expansion was about a shift change and the expansion of the driveways and parking lot.

According to an article in the local paper, they are expanding their hours. What do they think is going to take place in these hours that is different than the others? They will be killing more birds and using more water.

In some ways, I know this may be a simplistic way to look at the drought issue, so I want to add that those communities of color and farm workers living with contaminated water should also not have to abide by these new restrictions either because those who polluted their water supply should in fact be paying for their water.

slaughterhouse water usage
1. Water usage obtained through California Public Records, Petamula Poultry Semi-Annual Report July 2014
2. Average Petaluma household usage according to
City of Petaluma

As Food Empowerment Project is an ethically based vegan organization, we are against the killing of animals for food. But there is no denying that these two issues are connected—taking the life of these precious birds is impacting a precious resource: water. And, well, I feel we lose part of our humanity when we don’t recognize the negative impacts we have on other beings, and in this instance it is the chickens as well as ourselves who are impacted.

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