They call it the "People's Republic of San Francisco", but judging by the latest piece of landmark legislation to come before civic authorities, northern California's first city deserves a new nickname. Something along the lines of "the Animals' Republic".
Local law-makers, whose legendary political correctness has, in recent years, seen them outlaw McDonald's Happy Meals, plastic bags, and the sale of bottled water, are to consider enacting another draconian ban: they want to stop people buying and selling pets.
The Humane Pet Acquisition Proposal, which has been prepared for consideration by San Francisco's governing Board of Supervisors, will prevent the trade in any domestic creature – from labradors to goldfish – taking place within the city limits. It has been crafted by activists who believe pet stores put profit before animal welfare, and say the industry causes needless suffering and death. They also argue that turning animals into commodities has parallels with the slave trade.
"Large-scale, commercial breeding operations add millions of animals to the system," reads the proposal. "These animals are sold for profit, leading to many documented humane issues such as: overcrowded living conditions, lack of socialisation, over-breeding, inbreeding, poor veterinary care, and poor quality of food and shelter."
Representatives of the pet industry, which in the US is worth $50bn a year, call the proposal "by far the most radical ban we've seen". It would force several local businesses to close, and do nothing to stop residents from purchasing creatures over the internet or from nearby towns and cities, they argue. "Animal-rights activists are trying to drive a wedge any way they can in order to get a foothold on changing the ownership of animals," said Jonathan Ito, the owner of one San Francisco pet store. "They don't believe they should be bred. They don't believe people are responsible to care for them. They are about eliminating animals as pets."
Some finer details of the proposal have already highlighted the difficulties inherent in concocting policy which plays to the extremes of the animal rights agenda. In order not to infringe on people's constitutional freedom to eat what they please, the law has been modified to allow trade in creatures such as live chickens and lobsters, which are destined for human consumption.
Backers have also been forced to vigorously defend the inclusion of cold-blooded creatures, including goldfish, in their ban. "Why fish? Why not fish?" Philip Gerrie, an author of the proposal, told the Los Angeles Times. "From Descartes on up, in the Western mindset, fish and other non-human animals don't have feelings, they don't have emotions, we can do whatever we want to them. If we considered them living beings, we'd deal with them differently."
* Police began enforcing a new "sit/lie law" in San Francisco this year, which bans sitting and lying on pavements between 7am and 11pm. Written and verbal warnings serve as punishment.
* Bay City passed a "food justice" ruling last year which could prevent McDonald's Happy Meals being sold with a toy if they contain more than 600 calories.