S.F. live markets dispute reheats; California may yet ban turtle and frog imports
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1998:
SAN FRANCISCO––California Fish and Game
Commission assistant executive director Ron Pelzman ended an
October 2 hearing in Monterrey on the sale of live animals as
food by announcing that the commission will ask the state legislature
to require that all animals be killed before leaving the
market––and said the commission will in February again consider
banning the import of live turtles and frogs.
Pelzman said “live food” merchants would be asked
to obtain a $36 permit, revocable on evidence of violation.
The CFGC was moved toward action in part by the
mid-September seizure of 892 undersized red-eared slider turtles
who were illegally offered for sale at street fairs in
Mountain View and Berkeley.
“There is strong suspicion,” Action for Animals
president Eric Mills reported, “that the illegal baby turtles are
coming into the state in the same shipments as the currently
legal market turtles.”
Fighting an invasion of rice-eating and alleged damweakening
Chinese mitten crabs in Central Valley waterways,
the CFGC and California Department of Fish and Game are
hyper-aware lately of the potential impact of alien species.
The CFGC in March 1998 deferred action against live
turtle and frog imports. Though turtles and frogs are not considered
a threat on the order of mitten crabs, they are often
bought at live food markets for release by Buddhists, Hindus,
and others in acts of religious devotion, and are considered
potentially menacing to rare native reptiles.
Officially, the CFGC is not concerned with cruelty.
But the live food issue came before the CFGC a year ago as
fallout from the most recent eruption of a century-old conflict
over the treatment of animals at the San Francisco live market.
San Francisco live marketers beat back proposed regulation
at the city supervisors level in 1996, and has won
repeated delay of possible state response. On March 31 and
April 2, 1998, however, with both another CFGC hearing and
a lawsuit against the live merchants brought by San Francisco
attorney Baron Miller pending, representatives of all 12
Chinatown live markets signed a Joint Statement of Principles
and Guidelines drafted by the San Francisco SPCA at request
of Board of Supervisors chair Barbara Kaufman.
According to the Joint Statement, the signers agreed
“in principle” that animals must be killed “humanely”; agreed
that “no animal will be dismembered, flayed, cut open, or
have skin, scales, feathers, or shell removed while alive”;
agreed that injured and/or diseased animals would not be sold;
agreed that live animals would not be allowed to starve, dehydrate,
or suffocate; agreed that animals would not be kept in
such a manner as to cause them to be crushed, attacked, or
wounded by other animals; and agreed that animals would be
given enough space to lie down, stand erect, change posture,
and rest in the normal manner of their species.
Raymond Mah, president of the Chinese
Consolidated Benevolent Association, agreed to a July 1 deadline
for meeting the first three stipulations, and an October 1
deadline for meeting the rest. But attorney Paul Wartelle, representing
11 of the defendants in the Miller’s case, omitted the
July 1 deadline from the papers those 11 signed, and then
advised his clients to withdraw from talks on implementation.
None of the live merchants appeared to have met the
July 1 deadline.
On July 20, California Superior Court Judge Carlos
Bea ruled against Miller, holding that under current state law,
if “slaughter involves physical pain to the animal that is not reasonably
avoidable, food animals can still be killed by people
even though the animal suffers.”
A gloating Wartelle called the Joint Statement “ a n
empty agreement that nobody needed to implement.”
On September 21, Wartelle told SF/SPCA president
Richard Avanzino that in accord with recommendations by
University of California at Davis professor Joy Mench,
retained by the live merchants as a consultant, they would
make changes by October 1 including “display of only one
delivery container of frogs at a time; single pithing of killed
frogs and turtles; separate display of soft shell turtles, in circumstances
that limit their aggression, and double-pithing and
decapitation of soft shell turtles as a killing method.”
But Wartelle insisted that for purported safety reasons,
the live merchants must continue ripping the shells off of
live hard-shelled turtles. He also made the entire deal contingent
upon the SF/SPCA certifying that practice as “humane.”
Responded Avanzino, “As you are aware, mutiliating
live animals violates the guidelines in the Joint Statement.
More importantly, it violates our most fundamental humane
beliefs. Our attempt to forge a harmonious resolution based on
mutual trust and understanding has failed. Further controversy
would appear inevitable.”
Wartelle accused Avanzino of adopting “a tone calculated
to reignite the flames of cultural conflict.” He told media
that the live markets are “doing the best thing we can do for our
animals,” and “don’t treat animals inhumanely at all.”
On October 1, however, Avanzino and a local radio
reporter toured the live markets. They saw, Avanzino said, “A
soft shell turtle with her shell cut off, organs exposed, parts of
her body hacked away, head still attached and moving,” along
with “hundreds of frogs piled over a foot deep in plastic
garbage pails,” so that “the animals on the bottom of the heap
were unable to move, and were being crushed by those above.”
At least some prominent Asian-Americans in San
Francisco firmly backed Avanzino, including San Francisco
Zoo patron Violet Soo-Hoo, who told ANIMAL PEOPLE she
has avoided the live market district for decades.