Activists targetingPetaluma farmers

A recent rash of break-ins by animal rights activists at Petaluma farms have ruffled some feathers, but not enough that local businesses are changing their practices. Local farmers say they’ve gone back to business as usual and have not beefed up their security significantly.

“Most of the (security) stuff we have is stuff any other farm would have for keeping their animals in,” said Jonathan Mahrt, whose father, Steve Mahrt, owns Petaluma Farms.

Last week, Petaluma Farms was the subject of a graphic video released by the Berkeley-based animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere that showed chickens in one of their barns, some of which were missing feathers or covered in filth. One chicken appears to be ill, laying still on the ground with its wing outstretched, which the three activists in the video removed and named MeiHua. The group claimed the video was filmed during a series of nighttime break ins at Petaluma Farms in 2013 and 2014. The farm on Cavanaugh Lane is surrounded by a high fence topped with barbed wire, which Jonathan Mahrt said provided enough security, adding that they haven’t planned any additional safeguards.

“My dad’s take is that it’s a sad day when farmers and ranchers have to be concerned about security,” he said.

Jonathan Mahrt said the business hasn’t decided whether or not to press charges against Direct Action Everywhere for trespassing, and declined to speak more specifically on the issue.

In October, a similar video was released by Mercy for Animals showing the conditions at Petaluma’s Reichardt Duck Farm on Middle Two Rock Road. It was shot by an employee who surreptitiously filmed the farm’s operations.

The Sonoma County Sheriff Department launched a full investigation with the assistance of Sonoma County Animal Control and found the farm appeared to be performing at “industry standards,” but added, “This case is currently under investigation and, when completed, it will be submitted to the Sonoma County District Attorney for review,” in a written statement.

Arnie Riebli, who owns 1 million egg-laying hens at his Sunrise Farm, says he’s certain animal rights activists broke into one of his barns in December because the county received a complaint about his operation. But, he said, it’s a prominent flu, not animal rights activists, that caused him to increase his security efforts. “There’s a pretty significant avian influenza making its way down from British Columbia,” he said, explaining that the disease can be passed from humans to chickens, so he has limited the number of staff who have access to the flock. He added that the recent spate of break-ins has caused him to be more scrupulous about his business.

“We’re probably far more observant of the people who are coming and going than we were before,” Riebli said.

Overall, he said he’s not too concerned about the animal rights activists and their attempts to expose inhumane treatment at local farms. “I don’t think I have to marginalize them, I think they’re doing that themselves.”

(Contact Emily Charrier at emily.charrier@argus

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