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Bowing to pressure, a Berkeley butcher shop makes a deal with vegan protesters

A butcher arranges pieces of meat at his shop in Marseille, France. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

The protests were intense: People dripping with fake blood, tightly bound in plastic wrap as if they were cuts of meat. Singing, shouting, lecturing customers. It’s what Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights group, would do every time the Local Butcher Shop would host its butchering classes in its Berkeley, Calif., store.

But after four months, the protests have finally slowed down, and for an unlikely reason: After receiving a list of demands from the group, which also goes by DXE, the butcher shop capitulated. Although the Local Butcher Shop touts its farms’ humane practices on its website, owners agreed to hang a sign in their window that reads “Attention: Animals lives are their right. Killing them is violent and unjust, no matter how it’s done.”

“They are supporters of animal welfare, which is very distinct from animals rights,” said DXE organizer and investigator Matt Johnson. “The notion of the right way to do the wrong thing is exactly what we are here to challenge.”

DXE is known for its highly-visible protests, which can scare passersby, and can sometimes end with its members being arrested. They perform raids on slaughterhouses to rescue live animals. The group believes in legal personhood for animals, and “total animal liberation.”

The Local Butcher Shop’s owners, a husband and wife team named Monica and Aaron Rocchino, declined to comment when reached by The Post.

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“I have a lot to say about it, but I don’t want to give any more attention to it, because it’s what the protesters want,” Aaron Rocchino said.

But Mimi Stein, the director of operations for Certified Humane, an organization that certifies farms with the highest standards for painless slaughter, denounced DXE’s actions.

“DXE is attempting to undermine consumer confidence in products which are in fact ethically produced and businesses working in good faith to reinvigorate a very desirable traditional business model,” Stein said in an email. “Shame on DXE!”

Humane animal slaughter has been an important topic throughout human history. Jewish kashrut laws specify that animals used for food must be killed with a sharp knife that makes one deep cut across the neck, to cause a rapid loss of blood pressure and render the animal unconscious to minimize suffering. Similar rules in Islamic law govern the way animals are killed for Muslims’ halal meat.

In the United States, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” brought attention to food safety issues in meatpacking and slaughterhouses, and compelled new federal food laws regarding consumer safety, including the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. But it wasn’t until 1958 that Congress passed the Humane Slaughter Act, which required abattoirs to stun their animals into unconsciousness before they were slaughtered. Humane slaughter took another step forward with the advocacy of Temple Grandin, who invented two devices that keep cattle calm as they are being led to slaughter. (Also an autism advocate, Grandin was the subject of a 2010 biopic starring Claire Danes.)

DXE frequently targets businesses that advertise humanely-slaughtered meat, because, as their FAQ page says, “the idea of ‘humane meat’ is the wobbly linchpin holding together all of animal agriculture. If we can topple that, then the whole system will come crashing down.”

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Because they are headquartered in Berkeley — which one might call the epicenter of ethical eating — local businesses like the famed restaurant Chez Panisse are frequent targets.

Johnson says that after weeks of protests, the Rocchinos approached them to talk. After some back-and-forth negotiation, they agreed to post the sign, which was created by DXE.

“If it was up to us, it would be very front, very center,” Johnson said. “As it is now, it’s on one of the windows that is off to the side.”

They’ve reached an unsteady detente. “We haven’t committed to never protesting there again,” Johnson said, though they are drastically scaling back the number of protests they hold at the shop. “We don’t want that sign to be there forever, because we want that business to eventually not be killing animals.”

But because DXE was so successful, it plans to use the tactic at other butcher shops, grocery stores and businesses that serve meat.

“Our ultimate ask is a nonviolent world where we’re not hurting animals for any purpose,” Johnson said.

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Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Jewish guidelines for humane slaughter come from the Torah.