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Commentary: Local anti-agriculture measure signals wider threat

Doug Beretta at Beretta Family Dairy in Sonoma County. A local ballot measure, backed by out-of-county activists, threatens to force commercial animal agriculture operations out of business. Photo/Paulo Vescia

By Doug Beretta

Sonoma County’s diverse agricultural heritage is under attack as a measure that effectively seeks to eliminate dairy, livestock and poultry farms from operating in the county will be on the November ballot.

The “Prohibition on Concentration Animal Feeding Operations” measure, backed by organizations that represent an extreme fringe of the animal rights movement, would deem existing animal agriculture operations in the county as “a nonconforming use” and seek to force them out of business within three years.

The effort that qualified the local initiative was largely led by out-of-county activists for groups including Coalition to End Factory Farming and Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE.

Notably, in November, the San Francisco founder of DxE was sentenced to 90 days in jail on felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespassing charges for his role in invasive protests at Sonoma County poultry farms. District Attorney Carla Rodriguez described his actions as criminal activity “putting farmers, their employees and flocks of birds at risk of harm.”

Simply stated, organizations such as these have a broader agenda to phase out animal agriculture across California, if not nationwide, by targeting dairy, meat and poultry production. This ill-conceived local initiative has made our county a test case and potential steppingstone for this movement.

Yet the activists behind the measure neither understand agriculture in Sonoma County nor its commitment to safeguarding animal welfare and the environment.

As a third-generation organic dairy farmer in Santa Rosa, my family’s priority is first and foremost the health and well-being of the animals we raise. Like all animal agriculturalists, we embody principles of care, respect and well-being for our cattle. Our practices not only support nutrition of our herd through grazing but also contribute to the conservation of wildlife habitats, including those of the California tiger salamander, red-legged frog and a variety of plant species.

Sustainable farming in Sonoma County goes beyond mere terminology; it represents our commitment to environmental stewardship and community engagement. Our operations are finely tuned to the unique environmental conditions of our region, emphasizing the importance of soil and water conservation through thoughtful management practices.

These steps include providing shelter for our cattle during adverse weather conditions and implementing effective manure management strategies to enrich the soil while minimizing runoff.

The ballot measure threatens not only our way of life but also the legacy of multigenerational family farms across the county. These farms, which produce a diverse array of products, from dairy to poultry and beef, are cornerstones of our local food system, embodying high standards of animal care and environmental responsibility.

The push to eliminate these operations, spearheaded by activists based primarily in Berkeley and elsewhere in the Bay Area, relies on emotional appeals and misinformation, obscuring the reality of our conscientious farming practices. These practices are often validated by third-party certifications, attesting to our commitment to animal welfare and ecological preservation.

The implications of this measure are far-reaching. Should it pass, it would not only jeopardize the viability of local family farms but also disrupt the supply of locally sourced, ethically raised animal products.

This disruption would extend beyond the immediate agricultural community, affecting processors, feed stores, veterinarians and the broader Sonoma County economy. The loss of these farms would lead to job losses, housing insecurities, diminished diversity of agricultural-related jobs and increased food insecurity.

At the heart of this issue is the fundamental right of individuals to make informed choices about their food.

The campaign against our animal agriculture operations, masked in language of animal rights and environmentalism, ultimately seeks to dictate dietary choices based on a narrow ideological stance.

This stance fails to acknowledge comprehensive efforts of farmers and ranchers in Sonoma County and beyond to maintain a balance between productive agriculture and environmental stewardship.

As we confront this challenge, it is crucial to recognize the broader implications of such measures. They not only threaten the economic and social fabric of agricultural communities but also undermine principles of choice and diversity in our food system.

This is a moment that calls for informed decision making, grounded in an understanding of the integral role that agriculture plays in our lives and the environment.

In Sonoma County, the future of agriculture and the variety and availability of food choices for our community hang in the balance. And what happens here could have implications for agricultural communities across California and beyond.

(Doug Beretta is president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and operator of Beretta Family Dairy, winner of the 2022 Leopold Conservation Award, which honors farmers and ranchers for employing sustainable practices protecting natural resources. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted. However, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation


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