BY CONNOR RICHARDS / MAY 21, 2019 – Peninsula Press
Mike Weber starts his days early at the family-owned egg farm, Weber Family Farms, in Petaluma, a North Bay city where poultry processing makes up 1.7% of all employment. As one of the facility’s owners, his younger brother is the other owner, Weber is responsible for figuring out how to get the day’s eggs cleaned, packaged and on to breakfast tables across Northern California.
But ever since a May 2018 demonstration by Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, an animal welfare group founded less than 50 miles away in Berkeley, California, Weber is concerned about his safety as he moves through his daily routine. A parked car sits at the edge of the farm. A drone flies overhead. Weber wonders if he and his brother are being watched, if DxE is preparing for an ambush.
The protest began on a Spring day in 2018. Around 500 demonstrators led by DxE protested outside Weber’s farm. Dozens of activists removed chickens they described as sick or dying, according to The Press Democrat.
In an interview with the Peninsula Press, Weber said, “they basically rushed onto the property, rushed through all the entrances … nobody could stop them.”
Hours later, Sonoma County law enforcement arrested 40 activists for trespassing. Weber says the demonstration halted egg production.
“It affected every aspect of our operation,” he said.
That demonstration made it difficult to retain employees who were worried about harassment by activists, said Weber. Poultry workers were shoved or cursed at during the demonstration.
“That’s not something a normal employee is used to when you’re employing people to take care of your animals,” he said.
Animal welfare is at the heart of DxE’s “open rescue” demonstrations, where activists make no attempt to cover their faces or conceal their identities as they take animals from farms. Members of DxE have spent the last few years filming injured or dying animals at farming facilities throughout Northern California in brutal conditions the group says are rampant in factory farming, and illegal under California’s animal cruelty statute.
Chickens crammed so tightly in cages that the wiring embeds into their flesh. Birds with prolapsed vaginas. Chickens attacking and devouring other chickens. Weber Family Farms says the DxE’s allegations of animal cruelty are untrue.
DxE activists say they presented their claims of animal cruelty to authorities and to Amazon and Whole Foods, who purchase poultry products from Sonoma County. No charges were filed, the group said. So DxE took action into its own hands. It infiltrated farms without permission and removed what it claimed were sickened animals.