Will the shelling stop?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1998:

SAN FRANCISCO––If you think
people who torture animals for alleged “cultural”
motive are as addicted to their deeds as
those who torture just for kicks, and that they
will therefore break any bargain, the Joint
Statement of Principles and Guidelines subscribed
to on March 31 by the San Francisco
SPCA and Representatives of San Francisco’s
Live Animal Markets may strike you as a
cruel and just slightly early April Fool.
You may side with the activists
now burning up the Internet with assertions
that SF/SPCA president Richard Avanzino is
the biggest fool of all, for agreeing––d e
f a c t o––to self-policing to eliminate six types
of animal abuse recognized by both the
SF/SPCA and the live marketers.

As the agreement is strictly an
agreement in principle, specifics of enforcement
beyond the little or nothing presently
done by the California Health Department,
Fish and Game Department, and city
Department of Animal Care and Control
remain undefined––not least because the outcome
of a lawsuit still in court as ANIMAL
P E O P L E went to press, filed by San
Francisco attorney Baron Miller, may be to
oblige the state and city offices to start fully
enforcing several long neglected codes that
could by themselves end the abuse.
If, on the other hand, you believe
people of every culture practice flagrant cruelty
mostly unawares, that the people who
most defiantly defend culturally rationalized
cruelty are those who most fear humiliation if
they concede the need to change, and that the
way to get the best out of people is to expect
the best, you may believe Avanzino and staff
have achieved an agreement on basic issues
which could become a roadmap for negotiating
obstacles that have mostly prevented animal
advocates from halting live market abuses
since St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of
San Francisco, tried unsuccessfully to prevent
the live-marketers of his place and time
from trussing lambs and carrying fowl upside
down circa 1200.
Live markets persist, long after the
advent of refrigeration and out-of-sight-outof-mind
slaughtering of most livestock,
because people of various ancient cultures
still believe meat sellers are inherently not to
be trusted, and if allowed to kill and butcher

animals unseen by the customer, will sell flesh which is
already decomposed and perhaps diseased. Maine lobster/beef
dinner customers want their lobsters to be alive when tossed
into boiling water, many Hasidic Jews in New York City want
to see their chickens alive before beheading, and the clientele
at the live markets in San Francisco’s Chinatown likewise want
their turtles, frogs, doves, and other animals to be alive as
close as possible to the point of consumption. In that they differ
little from the tourists who still order crabs to be boiled alive
a few blocks away at Fisherman’s Wharf.
The live marketers argue that their good faith should
be manifest in their willingness to keep live animals in plain
sight of customers, and to kill them in public view, quite
unlike most suppliers of meat to modern supermarkets.
The live marketers claim to put the highest possible
value behind keeping their word.
These are the words to which Avenzino and representatives
of all 12 San Francisco live markets signed their names,
six the first day, the rest reportedly within another 48 hours:
The San Francisco SPCA and the representatives of
San Francisco’s live animal markets agree that cultural, reli –
gious, and ethnic diversity are vital to our community’s suc –
cess and well-being. We also recognize that all people benefit
when different traditions, beliefs, and practices are allowed to
flourish in an atmosphere of tolerance and goodwill. To fur –
ther our mutual respect and understanding, the San Francisco
SPCA and the representatives of San Francisco’s live animal
markets are committed to working together to preserve tradi –
tional practices and foster kindness and compassion throughout
our community.
Towards this end, the following guidelines have been
agreed upon and will be adhered to in a spirit of cooperation,
respect, and compassion:
1. All animals that are to be killed will be killed
2. No animal will be dismembered, flayed, cut open,
or have its skin, scales, feathers, or shell removed while the
animal is alive.
3. No injured or diseased live animal, or carcass of
any such animal, will be sold or offered for sale.
4. No live animals will be confined, held, or dis –
played in a manner that results, or is likely to result, in injury,
starvation, dehydration, or suffocation.
5. No live animals will be confined, held, or dis –
played in a manner that results in the animal being crushed,
attacked, or wounded by any other animal.
6. No live animal will be confined, held, or dis –
played in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down,
standing erect, changing posture, and resting in a normal
manner for that species.
For frogs and turtles, guidelines 4, 5, and 6 are
deemed to have been met when the animals are held and kept
according to internationally accepted standards for the trans –
port of live animals as set forth in the International Air
Transport Association’s “Live Animal Regulations.”
A separate letter dated March 28, from Avanzino to
Raymond Mah, president of the Chinese Consolidated
Benevolent Association, stipulated a July 1 phase-in deadline
for items 1-3 , and a deadline of October 1 for items 4-6.
“We appreciate your commitment to implementing
the guidelines,” Avanzino wrote, “including initiating an educational
program to ensure that San Francisco live animal merchants
have the information they need to implement the guidelines
and provide humane treatment for the animals. We would
be happy to help with the educational effort and look forward to
working with you to establish a successful program.”
A response dated March 31, to Avanzino from attorney
Paul Wartelle, who represented 11 of the live marketers,
infuriated activists when distributed a few days later, for omitting
the July 1 deadline and for stating, “On the basis of your
mutual agreement with my clients and with the Six Companies,
the SF/SPCA will send representatives to the hearing before the
California Fish and Game Commission in Long Beach,” scheduled
for the following day to discuss a long-pending proposal to
ban the import of live turtles and bullfrogs into California, “to
describe the positive benefits to the San Francisco community
of the principles to which we have agreed.”
Avanzino was adamant, however, when interviewed
by ANIMAL PEOPLE, that despite the omission of the July 1
deadline from the Wartelle letter, it was definitely part of the
deal with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and
the Six Companies. Despite a report in the April 2 edition of
Asian Week that SF/SPCA was now willing to “reconsider” its
public position in favor of the proposed turtle and frog import
ban, Avanzino added, he stood by the position already made
explicit in the first sentence of a Statement on the Import of
Live Turtles and Bullfrogs for Food, submitted to the CFGC
back on January 23, along with a six-section documentary
report plus photographs and appendices, and extensively quoted
at the top of page one in the March 1998 edition of A N IMAL
“The SF/SPCA strongly supports the proposed ban on
the import of live turtles and bullfrogs for food.”
Green issue
In fact, the Joint Statement of Principles and
Guidelines, covering animal care matters, had no direct bearing
on the proposed ban. As the CFGC chief hearing officer
made clear in convening the hearing, the import ban was proposed
mainly to address problems associated with the introduction
of non-native reptiles and amphibians into California by
persons who purchase them for release, often in connection
with Buddhist religious ceremonies. Secondarily, the import
ban was also proposed to ease hunting pressure on wild turtle
and bullfrog populations.
Although the ban if implemented might have had
the effect of temporarily curtailing the supply of turtles and
reptiles available for sale, it did not address the treatment of
either animals brought from elsewhere or animals raised or
captured in California, nor did it address the treatment of
any animals other than turtles and bullfrogs, among dozens
of species commonly seen in the San Francisco live markets.
The Joint Statement of Principles and Guidelines
did affect the political atmosphere surrounding the proposed
import ban, inasmuch as the proposed ban was touted by
Action for Animals and the Fund for Animals, among others,
as in part a response to live market cruelty.
By assent of the commissioners, to clarify the nonrelationship
of the Joint Statement to the proposed ban,
Avanzino read the statement into the record as last speaker of
the hearing. Veterinarian Leslie Iku Endo, flown to the
hearing by the SF/SPCA, earlier in the day gave testimony
supporting the ban, based on an SF/SPCA-funded investigation.

The CFGC was by all accounts eager to avoid the
cruelty issue––officially because the CFGC does not recognize
a mandate to prevent cruelty, and unofficially, to avoid
a political crunch. Like the wildlife policy advisory bodies
of most states, the CFGC tends to owe heavy allegiance both to
hunters, fishers, and trappers, and to environmental organizations
which usually align themselves with hunting, fishing,
and trapping. The introduction of alien species is usually a hotbutton
item for environmentalists, but not in this case. Though
Action for Animals coordinator Eric Mills claimed support
from “many sportsmen’s groups and environmental organizations,”
Fund for Animals representative Virginia Handley told
ANIMAL PEOPLE that the support is weak.
“Unfortunately,” Handley said, “the environmental
groups are not that familiar with the live market issue, and see
it as an animal rights project.”
. That, as well as the inherently difficult ethnic aspect,
makes regulating the live market traffic especially sensitive for
CFGC members. The California Anti-Trapping Initiative is
scheduled to go before state voters in November, prominently
backed––like the proposed ban––by Action for Animals and
The Fund, among many other organizations. The hook-andbullet
crowd doesn’t want to see the animal rights groups gain
credit for a major victory, especially when environmental
groups favoring hunting, fishing, and trapping aren’t lined up
to grab a big piece of it.
With the cruelty aspect of the live-animals-for-food
traffic addressed by the Joint Statement, pending a possible
stronger resolution resulting from the Miller case, the CFGC is
potentially more easily able to recommend a turtle and bullfrog
import ban, if it finds a ban to be warranted, whout seemingly
capitulating to the animal rights groups.
That’s not how the April 1 outcome played, though,
in San Franciso media, when the CFGC postponed action.
“Victory for Chinatown animal importers,” headlined
the April 2 edition of the San Francisco Examiner.
“In a blow to animal rights activists and a victory for
Chinese American merchants and their advocates,” wrote
Examiner reporter Rachel Gordon, “the California Fish and
Game Commission has rejected a proposed ban on the import
into the state of live turtles and bullfrogs for food.”
But that is not actually what the CFGC did. Irate
activists flooded the Internet with messages tending to overlook
Gordon’s next sentence: “However, the commission warned,
unless shopkeepers comply with an existing law that mandates
the animals be killed before they leave the market, an all-out
ban in the future is likely.”
In other words, leaving the proposed ban pending,
the commission set another hearing on the proposed ban for
October 1, giving the live marketers the same deadline for
compliance with existing law as their deadline for fulfilling the
terms of the Joint Statement.
If the live marketers do comply with both existing
law and the Joint Statement, both the animal care and ecological
issues will have been successfully addressed, potentially
reinforced by a favorable verdict in the Miller case.
If the live marketers don’t comply, they face the
risks of further regulation and regulatory enforcement, and will
be politically handicapped by having been caught in a public
demonstration of bad faith.
In at least temporary lieu of a turtle and bullfrog
import ban, the CFGC voted unanimously to step up enforcement
of existing law banning the live exit from markets of turtles
and bullfrogs sold as food.
This could satisfy those who are only concerned
about the live markets as a source of introduced alien species,
but as Handley explained, could also “guarantee that [turtle
rescuer] Annie Lancaster [of Tortoise Trust USA] will never
get another turtle out.”
Mills et al grinding
Eric Mills––who has made no secret over the years of
his dislike for Avanzino––quickly fulminated by fax to A N IMAL
PEOPLE that Avanzino in signing the Joint Statement
had “sold out” opposition to the live markets.
Handley, Lancaster, and Andy G. Highfield of
Tortoise Trust headquarters in Great Britain soon amplified the
“sell-out” charge by claiming in a blizzard of Internet postings
and follow-up faxes to ANIMAL PEOPLE that as Lancaster
summarized, “Avanzino hired a private investigator to check
into the turtle business. This person did three reports––major
ones. They contained all sorts of data on true origins of animals,
shippers, all sorts of really damning stuff. Then he went
behind everyone’s back, got this agreement signed, and told
the private investigator he was not to go to Long Beach to testify
at the [CFGC] hearing.”
Elaborated Handley, “That private investigator is
now testifying” at the trial of the Miller lawsuit. “We’re very
lucky,” she continued, “that Miller got his name before
Avanzino signed the agreement or I’m sure we wouldn’t have
gotten it.”
Handley and Highfield both complained that the
SF/SPCA reports hadn’t been made available to either the
CFGC or as part of the Miller trial record. Highfield cited
Mills as his source of information.
The SF/SPCA had in fact published and widely distributed
reports containing just such information in September
1996 and January 1998, plus supporting correspondence, photographs,
and a videotape.
“Was there,” we asked Miller, “any material of
weight from the investigator that was not included in the
SF/SPCA reports on the San Francisco live markets dated
September 1996 and January 1998?”
“I think everything was included in the SF/SPCA
reports,” Miller returned.
In fact, explained Avanzino, the SF/SPCA paid private
investigator Mike Williams of Baker Street Investigations
in San Rafael, California, not only for ongoing work pertaining
to the live markets, but also for his three days of testimony
at the Miller trial. The SF/SPCA also paid for Williams’ ticket
to Long Beach, but he didn’t make the trip when the CFGC
restricted testimony to matters pertaining to wildlife in the wild.
The CFGC did receive all material from Williams’ findings that
was relevant to those terms of inquiry, Avanzino said, via the
January 23 written submission.
Withheld from the public trial record, Avanzino continued,
was only information which might have jeopardized
confidential sources in continuing investigation, involving several
different law enforcement agencies and some lines of
inquiry having only peripheral association with live markets.
That left the manner and substance of the J o i n t
Statement still in dispute.
“One of the many problems I see,” said Handley, “is
that the live markets want to continue as usual. They may
make some small changes like putting up signs and never selling
to another Caucasian again. In order to prevent the overcrowding
of animals, the markets would have to cut back on
the number of animals delivered to them at one time. I fear
there will be fewer animals on display and more crammed into
back rooms or garages or store rooms off the property.”
But Handley didn’t slam the agreement as hard as
Avanzino’s other critics. “I agree,” she said, “that any movement
on the live market issue is better than none at all. I don’t
begrudge the agreement, but I have no illusions about it either.
Visits by several people including myself to the live markets
show no change at all” within the first 10 days afterward.
“They are still cutting up animals alive,” Handley charged,
“and fish are still gasping out of water on display.”
Most critics noted immediately that the Joint
Statement, as an agreement of principles, does not include as
yet any specific enforcement mechanism. Although agreements
of principle frequently precede agreement on enforcement of
treaties and contracts, the lag time from achieving one to the
other can sometimes be considerable: from December 1993 to
April 10, 1998, for instance, in accomplishing the peace
agreement on governance of Northern Ireland recently
announced by prime ministers Tony Blair of Great Britain and
Bernie Ahern of Ireland.
Meanwhile, pointed out Baron Miller, “If any of the
businesses which signed the agreement violate it, the SF/SPCA
would need to file a lawsuit to ask the court to enforce it, and
based on the language, which doesn’t appear to impose any
obligation on the SF/SPCA, it is probably an agreement which
the court would deem illusory and unenforceable.”
But Miller also noted that, “The agreement should
have no effect on the legal case,” conclusion of which wasn’t
expected before late April.
In an April 10 update to the 80 individuals whose
donations are funding his lawsuit, Miller explained, “If we are
successful at trial, we will at best obtain an order prohibiting
the keeping of live animals for sale in the stores, and at worst
an order prohibiting the individual cruel practices. Either order
would be enforceable by us, by citing an offending store for

contempt of court.”
Added Miller, “The specific practices we are trying
to prohibit are keeping animals without food or water; keeping
animals in cages and containers encrusted with feces, urine,
blood, and slime; keeping so many animals in cases and containers
that they are unable to touch the floor of their enclosure
or to turn around; keeping birds in cages which are not high
enough to allow the bird to stand upright; keeping fish in containers
with water so shallow that the fish must gasp for air;
tying the legs of birds and packing them in bags which are then
stapled shut; putting frogs into burlap bags and then clubbing
them; slicing shells off of fully conscious turtles; scaling and
cutting up fully conscious fish; mixing species of animals in
one enclosure; providing no water for aquatic animals; keeping
living animals and dead animals in the same location; and
keeping both live animals and food in the same location.”
Having exhausted the donations that got the potentially
precedent-setting case through many pre-emptive challenges
and into the court room, Miller as testimony began was paying
the $180-a-day court fees for the anticipated three-week trial
out of his own pocket, and was still accepting contributions c/o
the Miller & Miller Trust Account, 1390 Market Street, Suite
1204, San Francisco, CA 94102.
Why and how
Said Avanzino, “The Joint Statement has to be seen
in context. Our position as we emphasized in our September
1996 Statement on San Francisco Live Markets is that all of the
abuses are already illegal under existing law. But as we pointed
out then, there has been no enforcibility, no public will to
address the live markets except from the animal protection
community. The Health Department, San Francisco
Department of Animal Care and Control, and California
Department of Fish and Game have allowed abuse to continue.
Self-regulation, we acknowledge, is less than perfect, but it is
better than none. We have tried to approach the live marketers
as honorable people, and hope they will reciprocate. If we had
not entered into this agreement, we would still have nothing.
“We take no umbrage,” Avanzino emphasized, “to
anyone trying to negotiate something further. But we thought it
was important to take the step we took, while the merchants
were receptive. This was not to supersede or even address anything
that was before the CFGC,” Avanzino stipulated. “The
Joint Statement does not deal with wildlife issues. From the
merchants’ point of view as we understand it, it was simply to
show that they were willing to respond reasonably to the concerns
of the community.”
Actually drafted in mid-1997, at request of San
Francisco board of supervisors chair Barbara Kaufman, the
Joint Statement was not finalized and signed, Avanzino said,
until after the SF/SPCA understood that other negotiations
involving the live marketers, Action for Animals, the Fund for
Animals, and the Tortoise Trust had broken down. Although
Highfield denied by e-mail that these negotiations had broken
down, Handley confirmed Avanzino’s account, and credited
him with salvaging something worthwhile from a bad situation.
“It’s good cop, bad cop,” Handley said “Avanzino
took advantage of the timing, the media, and the panic of the
market reps over the possible ban and the lawsuit. And as it
turned out, we lost the ban, at least temporarily, so it’s good
something came out of it.”
Continued Avanzino, “We think we see movement
and motivation. We now have a timetable for improvement,
and we have already had one meeting, called by the live market
representatives, to discuss ways and means of advancing the
timetable. We have the timetable because it will take further
discussion to agree on some difficult problems, such as how to
humanely kill reptiles,” a matter over which there is much disagreement
even among veterinary authorities, complicating
most humane enforcement involving reptiles.
“Our critics think only knocking heads can bring
change,” Avanzino added. “But this sector of San Francisco is
extremely well organized. Forty-five percent of our population
are of Asian descent, and they have formed a strong part of our
economic and political life for 150 years. The Asian community
leaders have a big buy-in. They tell us that rather than trying
to have inspectors kicking down doors, we will get change
when leaders say it is time to change. We believe this is what
they are ready to say. If we believe these folks are evil, and
will only change if forced to change, I don’t think anything is
likely to change in the live markets in the near future because of
their strength in San Francisco politics. When we approached
the San Francisco board of supervisors two years ago, we
couldn’t get a single supervisor to even say a good word about
the Department of Animal Care and Control recommendations”
for addressing live market abuse.
“But we lose nothing,” Avanzino stated, “by reaching
the Joint Statement. If we fail, the animals in the live markets
won’t be worse off. But we will be able to prove to the
world, including the voters in California outside San Francisco
and the other cities that have live markets, that here the word
of the merchants can’t be trusted, that change can be brought
only by force and humiliation. We see a parallel to our successful
agreement with San Francisco landlords to open housing to
people with pets. We didn’t seek a legislative solution. I don’t
think there has ever been an effective legislative response to
any animal issue where we have to change the cultural frame of
reference, whether within a corporation or an industry or an
institution or a sector of society. We try to model our approach
in these circumstances after the kinds of agreement that Henry
Spira [of Animal Rights International] has so successfully
negotiated over the years in changing corporate cultures. All of
his successes, so far as we know, have been done through
agreements and mutual monitoring.
“We think we now have an admission from the merchants
that conditions have to improve, signed by merchants,
leaders, people respected in the community. It’s not the complete
solution,” Avanzino said again, “but it is a step forward,
not just for turtles and frogs, but for all animals.”
Said Spira, whose chief project for the past 14 years
has been the ARI-sponsored Coalition for Non-Violent Food,
“It’s okay. I think it could have been stronger if the parties had
agreed upon a veterinarian to do unannounced spot inspections,
but it’s okay for a start. Let’s see what they do with it.”

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