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Opinion | A Utah Jury Acquitted Two Animal Rights Activists.


A grand jury in southern Utah let me walk freely earlier this month after I took two injured piglets from a farm in the middle of the night where I wasn’t allowed. The sentence, on burglary and petty theft charges that could land me and my accomplice, Paul Darwin Picklesimer, in jail for more than five years, was a shock. After all, we have acknowledged what we did.

We are animal rights activists. We believe this decision underscores the growing public discontent over the raising and killing of billions of animals on factory farms. Our piglet rescue took place in a secret three-month operation that I led into the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods. We focus on Smithfield’s Circle Four Ranch in Milford, Utah, which raises over a million pigs for slaughter each year.

We snuck into the farm one night in March 2017. Inside, we found and recorded sick and underweight piglets. One of them was unable to walk properly or access food because of an infected leg wound, according to a veterinarian who testified on our behalf. The other piglet’s face was covered with wounds and blood, and it struggled to be breastfed by its mother people with nipples show terrible reproductive trauma, the veterinarian, who reviewed videos of the piglets and spoke with caregivers, said in a report. Given their condition, both piglets are likely to be killed and potentially thrown into a dump outside Circle Four Farms, where Millions of pounds of dead pigs and other waste are thrown away every year. Nationwide, estimated 14 percent piglets die before they are weaned.

But that will not be the fate of these two. After removing the piglets, our team took care of them back to health. We named them Lily and Lizzie. About four months later, we shared videos of our actions with The Times. (Smithfield thinks the video appears to be staged. It’s not.) In August, FBI agents went to animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado with search warrant for two pigs. At the shelter in Colorado, government veterinarians cut off part of Lizzie’s ear for DNA testing. Not long after, my four accomplices and I were prosecuted by state law enforcement officials.

All of this, despite the fact that a representative from the company testified at our trial that no one at the farm even noticed that the piglets were missing until a video emerged. appear online. According to one of the prosecution’s witnesses, these piglets were worth at most $42.20 each.

The agricultural sector is a powerful enemy with great political influence. In recent years, it has succeeded in passing legislation banning or restricting audio recording in industrialized farming practices, although Utah is among several states where these “ag-gag” laws declared unconstitutional. In a case last week before the Supreme Court, the industry sought to overturn the will of Californians who voted in favor of Proposition 12, which requires pork, veal and eggs to be sold in that state must be from farms that provide some limited space for animals. go round.

We know that prosecution is a possible outcome of our rescue. Three of my accomplices accepted plea agreements without jail or jail time. But Paul and I want a jury – and the public – to contend with the ethical implications of being born in grocery stores like packages of meat.

The jury deliberated for about eight hours. Many jurors, according to one juror who spoke to me after the trial, believed from the very beginning that what we did was against the law and that we should be punished. But two issues affected their acquittal, jurors said. First, the jury concluded that we lacked intent to steal. We were there to document the conditions and only to rescue an animal if we found one in need. Second, the jurors felt that the piglets in question were of no value to Smithfield. Thus, the jury concluded they could not have been the subject of a burglary.

The juror I spoke to also mentioned a third major factor that goes beyond legal issues: our appeal to conscience. In the closing remarks, in which I represented myself, I told the jurors that a not guilty verdict would encourage companies to treat animals in their care with be more compassionate and make governments more open to complaints about animal cruelty.

This is in stark contrast to the prosecutor’s report. The prosecutor compared injured piglets to dented cans. He argues that if you find a “dented can” in a store, just because it’s damaged doesn’t mean you can “rescue” it and “get it out of the store.” In fact, every year, we treat tens of billions of animals nothing more than dented cans.

In response to the ruling, Smithfield stated that they have “high standards” for the care of animals, even though we have gathered evidence. “The individuals taking this action are part of an anti-meat movement that has been identified as undermining the livestock farming industry,” the company said in a statement. “We raise pigs to provide people with healthy, nutritious and affordable protein.”

However, Lily and Lizzie are more than just proteins. They are intelligent, emotionally complex animals that love to hang out with friends and explore the grasslands of the reserve, where they are thriving. Lizzie is outgoing and generous; Lily, more shy. They spend almost all of their time together. They are more than dented cans.

However, they are just two of the billions of animals in the US that are raised close together, slaughtered on factory farms, and then consumed as food. The rate of vegetarianism in the United States has static at 5 percent for many yearsand global meat consumption is increasing. But grass root activity has helped lead to recent victories to protect animals against cruelty.

Proposition 12 is one. So, a California law passed in 2019 bans the sale of fur clothing and accessories in the new state. The European Union has committed to phasing out the use of the harshest detention practices in animal production. Plant-based meats are now available at fast food chains nationwide.

Perhaps the jury’s verdict in our case is a sign that many people are rethinking whether their diets should include meat. Historically, many social movements have experienced sudden upheavals in support, often in response to people taking risks that put ethics first.

Our rescue in March 2017 showed the tension between slaughtering animals for food and compassion for them. The jury made the right choice. Our society will eventually do the same.

Wayne Hsiung is a lawyer and CEO of Sanctuary Initiative and co-founder of the animal rights network Live Action Anywhere.

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