Commentary: Farm Bureau tries to stifle citizen-led initiative

Factory farms “are not in line with the values of Sonoma County residents,” says an advocate for the county initiative.|

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as CAFOs or factory farms, are large-scale and polluting animal farms defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. CAFOs represent only a fraction of local farms, yet they are enormously destructive. CAFOs harm animals, exacerbate drought and wildfires, pollute our air and water, and are incubators for disease. They are not in line with the values of Sonoma County residents.

That's why the Coalition to End Factory Farming launched a ballot initiative to prohibit future CAFOs in Sonoma County and phase out existing ones. The initiative provides three years for existing CAFOs to scale-down or modify their operations. It also includes an employment assistance program for workers, which is an important part of a just transition away from relying on factory farms.

We began collecting signatures in September and the response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive. Over 17,000 Sonoma County voters have already signed the petition. Many have thanked us and expressed their horror at what occurs to animals at factory farms, others have come out to help collect signatures.

In response to our success, writer John Burns and Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Dayna Ghirardelli are spreading misinformation about the initiative, claiming it would “effectively outlaw 99% of Sonoma County dairies and all county poultry operations” and “would permanently ban most animal husbandry practices.” This is completely false. There are many animal farms in Sonoma County that do not meet the definition of a CAFO.

Ghirardelli also denies that dairy farms discharge toxic manure directly into public waterways, despite this occurring repeatedly in the county. And when Burns expresses concern for the struggles farmers experience due to droughts, fires, and climate change, he fails to mention that industrialized animal agriculture is itself one of the main drivers of these issues.

Ghirardelli and Burns paint advocates as fanatical and deceptive to deflect attention from the very serious issues with factory farming. It’s not the petitioners using “false claims, misinformation and scare tactics,” it’s them.

But contrary to the Farm Bureau's framing, it's not petitioners vs. farmers. Several small-scale local farmers have supported the initiative because they understand that not only would it not negatively affect them, it would actually help.

We can work together to start the transition away from these destructive factory farms and use our collective power to build a better world. A world where everyone – farmers, families, workers, animals – has their needs met. I invite readers to review the full text of the initiative and watch the footage from these facilities at, and sign the petition when you run into one of the volunteer petitioners.

Almira Tanner is an organizer with the Coalition to End Factory Farming and the lead organizer of Direct Action Everywhere.

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