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PD Editorial: Make an informed vote on farm law

PD Editorial: Make an informed vote on farm law


April 21, 2024

On Nov. 5, voters in Berkeley will decide whether to ban “factory farms.”

Of course, there are no farms in Berkeley — cue the vintage radio ads for a venerable brand of not-from-Berkeley dairy products that’s been gone since 2020. In short, the question is essentially meaningless.

Not so in Sonoma County.

The activist group behind Berkeley’s initiative gathered enough signatures to put a similar measure on the Nov. 5 ballot here in Sonoma County, where generations of farmers have raised livestock and poultry.

If this initiative passes, many of them will be put out of business.

It may seem puzzling to think about “factory farms” in Sonoma County, given the local ethos of organic agriculture and farm-to-table food.

There are no giant feedlots like the one that often houses 100,000 head of cattle in dusty fields alongside Interstate 5 near Coalinga. Here, most herds number in the hundreds, and cows roam freely in pastures for much of the year.

Petaluma was once known as “the egg basket of the world,” and has hosted Butter and Egg Days parades since 1918. But the vast majority of California’s eggs now come from farms in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, with flocks as large as a million birds.

Sonoma County farms are far smaller, and mostly produce organic cage-free eggs. Some are struggling to recover from an avian influenza outbreak.

But political campaigns often rely on slogans and emotional appeals.

That’s easier than explaining granular details of complex proposals.

And, regrettably, it’s often effective.

No rational person favors inhumane treatment of animals, even those raised for food. But there’s a lot at stake with the farming initiative, which would prohibit practices allowed on a far-larger scale by state and federal law.

More than 37,000 people signed petitions to place this initiative on the ballot. Chances are, few of them read the text, which fills nine pages and runs nearly 3,000 words. That isn’t unusual. Who has time to pore over a lengthy statute on the way out of the grocery store?

Fortunately, there’s almost seven months until Election Day — plenty of time to study the proposal, ask questions and make an informed vote. No need for a snap decision.

We encourage voters to read this measure carefully. You can find it here:

Before formally placing it on the ballot, the Board of Supervisors directed county agencies to analyze impacts on land use, open space, infrastructure, attracting and retaining employers and added costs for county government. The report is due in mid-May.

Readers also can look to The Press Democrat for information. Reporters will cover the campaigns as they unfold, testing the veracity of claims made by supporters and opponents. They also will dig into the fine print — AFOs and CAFOs, how many cows or horses, chickens or ducks would be allowed on local farms — and possible ripple effects on feed suppliers, veterinarians and others whose livelihoods are intertwined with farms.

The editorial board will study campaign material and academic research, seek out informed commentators and invite both sides for interviews before making a recommendation. As always, our opinion pages are a forum for readers to share their views. Send letters to

Unlike Berkeley, there are farms in Sonoma County, and what voters decide here could go a long way to determining their future — and whether similar initiatives are pursued elsewhere. Let’s make an informed choice.

You can send letters to the editor to


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