Dozens of animal welfare activists arrested after large protest at Petaluma chicken farm

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About 40 animal welfare activists were arrested Tuesday afternoon on suspicion of trespassing during a protest at an egg farm northwest of Petaluma.

Hundreds had gathered around noon in front of the farm on the 300 block of Liberty Road, which was lined by crowds on both sides. The facility is owned by a partner of Sunrise Farms.

Some individuals entered the private property and removed about 10 chickens from the 100,000-chicken farm, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said. They then sang freedom-themed songs and held flowers.

The protest was organized by Direct Action Everywhere, a national animal welfare group that calls for “total animal liberation” and advocates for veganism, according to its website.

Crum estimated there were about 200 protesters, while organizers said there were about 500.

The group was negotiating with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office to have animal control officers visit the farm. Members said they plan to go back onto the property and remove more chickens if county animal control officers didn’t intervene.

Direct Action Everywhere organizer Cassie King said the 10 birds activists took from the farm were “sick and dying.” The activists demanded entrance onto the property to examine the rest of the animals to “reveal what’s happening behind closed doors.”

Arnie Riebli, a partner of Sunrise Farms, swiftly denied the activists’ accusations of animal abuse.

“We know the claims they’re making are false,” Riebli said. “If not false they are grossly exaggerated.”

There was a series of intense negotiations between Wayne Hsiung, a Direct Action Everywhere organizer, and Mike Weber, property owner and a partner of Sunrise Farms. But Hsiung turned down an offer to have a limited group — himself, Weber and a sheriff’s deputy — go onto the property to inspect the birds’ conditions.

About 40 activists, including Hsiung and King, then crossed into the property and were arrested by deputies around 3:10 p.m. They waited in handcuffs for a sheriff’s bus to Sonoma County Jail.

A stretch of Liberty Road from Center Road to Rainsville Road was closed for over an hour while the activists were being arrested, and reopened around 4:40 p.m.

Direct Action Everywhere used drones to record footage of the protest.

Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tawny Tesconi said “it’s disappointing” the protesters chose to come to the area. She points to ubiquitous cows on pastures and area farms that house hens in barns instead of cages.

“There’s so many agriculturalists that are doing their best in managing their lands and animals,” Tesconi said. “Unfortunately they’re protesting farmers that provide food for America’s tables.”

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