Animal activists face a possible 60-year prison sentence for "open rescue" of piglets

Five California-based animal rights activists are looking down the barrel of a possible 60-year prison sentence for the theft of a pair of piglets from a farm in Utah.

                            Animal activists face a possible 60-year prison sentence for "open rescue" of piglets
(Getty Images)

Five animal activists from California associated with the animal rights group ‘Direct Action Everywhere’ are facing felony charges after they stole two piglets from a hog farm in Beaver County, Utah.

The defendants, including co-founder Wayne Hsiung, have been accused of stealing the pigs in March 2017 from Smithfield Foods Circle Four Farms near Milford. The defendants, dubbed "the Smithfield Five", have been involved in similar cases in the past.

Hsiung and the four other members of Direct Action Everywhere have been charged with four felony counts, each punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

“Baby pigs are enduring mutilation, starvation and abuse at Smithfield, and the company doesn’t want the public to know about it,” Hsiung said. “This is an attempt to intimidate activists who are showing the public the truth about what happens in factory farms.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, court documents indicate the farm managers did not detect the theft until July 6. An employee of the farm called the sheriff’s office to report a video posted on The New York Times website depicting the removal of the hogs. The video, titled “Operation Deathstar,” is an immersive, 360-degree view of the livestock removal, part of a tactic called “open rescue”.

“It was an absolutely sickening experience to be inside the Smithfield farm. There were piglets cannibalizing one another. Mother pigs trapped in cages, thrashing their heads against the cage doors,” Hsiung said, according to Fox13.

The piglets were later spotted after being caught on camera at Ching Farm Rescue and Sanctuary in Herriman.

On August 22, authorities served a search warrant at the sanctuary. According to court documents, the owner of the Herriman sanctuary confirmed that the animals had indeed been at the sanctuary but were later moved.

Investigators also obtained cell phone records placing the defendants in the vicinity of the Smithfield Foods facility during the days of March 7-8, 2017.

“I never imagined that for taking a sick animal to the vet I could be facing 60 years and yes, it is scary. All of us have lives we want to live. All of us have animals and family members we need to care for,” said Hsiung, who was aware that he was breaking the law but did not expect such a harsh charge.

“By reporting this facility to the media and the state of Utah, we were hoping they'd take action against the animal abusers, but with yesterday's news, we're finding out instead they're taking action against the whistleblowers and animal rescuers, and that's disappointing,” said Hsiung.

Hsiung believes that the group’s actions not only expose animal abuse but also pressing issues related to public health.

“We’re shocked that the state of Utah thinks it's worth taxpayer resources to target activists who did nothing more than take a sick and dying piglet to the vet,” he said.

“The diseases we found on this farm, the antibiotics we found on this farm, are endangering kids in the state of Utah, kids in the United States of America.”

Smithfield responded to the accusations in a statement to Plant Based News.

"At Smithfield Foods, the care and safety of our animals is a top priority. In an abundance of concern for our animals’ wellbeing, we immediately launched an investigation and completed a third-party audit after learning of an illegally obtained undercover video alleging mistreatment and mishandling of animals on a company-owned hog farm in Milford, Utah. 

"The audit results show no findings of animal mistreatment. Based on the review of our animal care experts, the video appears to be highly edited and even staged in an attempt to manufacture an animal care issue where one does not exist. 

"The video features blatant inaccuracies and assertions, which could not be farther from the truth. The video’s creators, who claim to be animal care advocates, risked the life of the animal they stole and the lives of the animals living on our farms by trespassing and violating our strict biosecurity policy that prevents the spread of disease. 

"This policy is particularly critical to the wellbeing of our piglets – the animals they claim to be rescuing."