Savannah Scarborough remembers, as a young girl, witnessing a neighbor slaughter a turkey, a memory she called “sickening.”
“The turkey ran around for a little bit, without a head, spurting blood,” she said. “I’ve never forgotten it. It still traumatizes me when I think about it.”
Scarborough was among half a dozen Carrboro residents on Tuesday who asked the Board of Aldermen to ban backyard slaughter of urban livestock.
Lee Graves called backyard slaughter “a dumb idea.”
“I’ve lived in Carrboro for over 20 years, and frankly I cannot even believe we’re discussing something so stupid,” said Graves. “With backyard slaughter you have absolutely no control over what happens.”
He argued the town would have no way to prevent inhumane treatment of animals, unsanitary handling practices, or the potential spread of disease.
The Board of Aldermen earlier this year amended the town code, allowing backyard slaughter of chickens and rabbits in an enclosed area. But the change caused confusion, as Carrboro police say it conflicts with ordinances governing animal welfare throughout Orange County that expressly ban killing animals.
Now, the aldermen are reassessing their stance on the issue, but they say they’ll need more input before considering changes to the ordinance.
Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said the discussion of backyard slaughter needs to include the perspective of those for whom it is meaningful.
“The reason that this idea of putting slaughter into the ordinance came up was because Carrboro was very concerned about cultural and religious practices that may or may not be happening in Carrboro that we may be infringing on if we don’t allow it,” said Chaney. “There might be a way in which we might be imposing a cultural norm that not everybody agrees with.”
She cited four rural towns in North Carolina that banned slaughter of goats and chickens, suggesting that the move had more to do with policing Mexican immigrants in those towns than protecting animal welfare.
“Whether we have the ordinance or not, it’s going to happen in our community,” Chaney said.
Chief Walter Horton told the board Carrboro police have received no calls for service related to backyard animal slaughter.
“I think that it’s probably gone on, but not reported,” he said.
Making a connection
Mayor Pro Tem Sammy Slade said he tried to reach out to representatives from Carrboro’s Burmese and Latino immigrant communities for their perspective, but did not hear back in time for Tuesday’s discussion.
Slade spoke in favor of allowing backyard slaughter, saying the practice encourages a connection to local food sources and promotes thoughtful meat consumption.
“In the case of actually owning your own animal, and living with that animal, and doing something that’s hard to do, we are reconnecting with what it means to have a relationship with food,” said Slade. “So many people don’t even realize in our culture that meat was once live animals. It has led me to reduce significantly the amount of meat I consume.”
Alderwoman Randee Haven-O’Donnell rejected the idea that the practice should have any place in Carrboro’s landscape.
“We are not a farming community,” she said.
She told fellow board members she was “shocked” that they would consider allowing backyard slaughter, citing both health concerns and the lack of regulation or oversight for DIY butchers.
“How are they going to sanitize wherever they make the kill?” Haven-O’Donnell asked. “Are they just going to run a hose over part of their yard? Where is the waste from the kill going to go? I really think you are opening up a Pandora’s Box of issues that you’re not ready to deal with.”
Board members agreed that before they consider any revisions to the ordinance, they need answers from staff about what religious practices and cultural norms should be weighed, how a new policy might fit with Orange County’s ordinance, and how best to define and regulate backyard slaughter.
The board also voted 4-1, with Haven-O’Donnell dissenting and Jacquie Gist absent, to consult with the Orange County Food Council on the need for local slaughtering facilities to serve small-scale farmers in the area.
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