Animal Rights Activists Found Not Guilty in Smithfield Piglet Case

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Emma Li, Staff Writer

On October 8, two animal rights activists were acquitted of all charges resulting from the removal of two piglets from a Utah factory farm in 2017. Wayne Hansen Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer, members of the animal welfare organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), were the only two out of five activists facing charges to take their case to trial. Each was charged with two counts of burglary and one count of theft and risked facing up to five years of jail time, among other consequences. The trial was originally slated to take place in Utah’s Beaver County but was moved to Washington County, owing to concerns that the size of the local community might result in a biased jury. Jury selection began on Monday and closing arguments were given Friday night.

Government authorities began pursuing the case in March of 2017 when the DxE activists filmed themselves breaking into Circle Four Farms and leaving with two piglets. During the same incursion, the group found that Smithfield Foods—the owner of Circle Four Farms and the largest producer of pork in the world—had not honored an earlier pledge to stop the use of gestation crates, a practice where pregnant sows are kept in metal enclosures no more than two by seven feet large. According to Hsiung, the rescued piglets were visibly ill and close to death. The video documenting these conditions was later posted online. The ensuing investigation found the FBI raiding animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado in search of the two piglets.

Although a state attorney stated that the commercial value of each piglet was no more than $42.50, representatives of Smithfield Foods argued that “a crime is a crime” and that DxE’s operations had caused damage to the company’s reputation. However, Hsiung, an attorney who represented himself at the trial, claimed that the piglets would likely have died without intervention and as such were of no value to Smithfield Foods. Hsiung asked the jury to consider the case from a different perspective: “I want you to acquit us as a matter of conscience. There’s a big difference between stealing and rescue.” According to the defendants, the pursuit of this case by the FBI is part of a long history of federal and state authorities shielding factory farms from “transparency and accountability”. The results of the trial were released on Saturday and consisted of a not-guilty verdict on all counts. Hsiung, who expressed his surprise at the verdict, stated that the trial was a step towards achieving greater public awareness of animal cruelty in the livestock industry.