Animal rights activists acquitted  after stealing piglets from Smithfield Foods farm



Laura Hill | Flickr

Michelle Piong

After over five years of investigation into their case by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Utah attorney general’s office, two members of the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere were acquitted by a jury on burglary and theft charges, which would have resulted in sentences of five-and-a-half years each.

In March 2017, Wayne Hsiung and Paul Picklesimer rescued two piglets that were on the verge of death from a Smithfield Foods factory farm in Utah. The piglets, named Lily and Lizzie, were brought into veterinary care and transferred to a sanctuary for rescued farm animals in Colorado after suffering from extremely poor living conditions that included piles of blood and feces.

Hsiung and Picklesimer entered the factory farm complex in Beaver County, Utah, to investigate the company’s pledge to stop the use of gestation crates, which are used to confine pregnant pigs in extremely small cages.

When the activists arrived at the factory farm, they found that the company still used these crates in staggering numbers.

They also investigated a facility crowded with farrowing crates, where female pigs were transferred to when about to give birth and which were just slightly bigger to fit nursing piglets.

Hsiung and Picklesimer discovered dead and rotting piglets inside the facility, as well as severely injured ones like the two piglets they rescued.

All of this was captured on film and later published by  The New York Times as “Operation Deathstar,” which sparked nationwide protests against Smithfield for misleading consumers about its horrible treatment of animals.

Their actions also led to an extensive five-year investigation to recover Lily and Lizzie, which included FBI agents raiding animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado and government veterinarians slicing off part of a piglet’s ear in hopes of gathering DNA evidence for the activists’ crimes. However, their efforts were in vain as authorities never recovered the rescued piglets.

Hsiung and Picklesimer faced two counts of felony burglary and one count of misdemeanor theft going into the trial.

A major component of the defense’s case was that the piglets they rescued were on the brink of death when the two activists took them away, while Smithfield regularly threw sick or dead animals anyway. The piglets would have been worthless had they stayed in the factory farm.

Sherstin Rosenberg, a veterinarian who cares for farm animals at Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary, testified that both Lily and Lizzie had a miniscule chance of surviving at Smithfield.

Although the piglets were priced at $42.20 each, she said that their market price had no relevance at all since the veterinary care required to keep them alive would cost hundreds of dollars and negate that value.

She also noted that both piglets had diarrhea, which was most likely caused by infection, rendering them a liability to Smithfield since they could spread that disease to other animals.

While the video that Hsiung and Picklesimer published was supposed to be shown in trial,

Judge Jeffrey Wilcox refused to show it to the jury because it would “cause an improper and emotional reaction within the jury,” as said by Utah Assistant Attorney General Janise Macanas.

Smithfield repeatedly referenced the video in the trial to use as evidence against the activists.

Picklesimer later mentioned that the judge’s decision to not show the video ended up helping the defense’s case because it made “the jury feel like they are being treated like babies.”

Chris Andersen, an FBI agent that investigated this case, also testified that eight FBI agents had been on the case.

FBI documents later revealed that Andersen had talked to executives from Smithfield and Costco about this incident, with one testimony reading, “Smithfield is concerned how this incident and the news coverage of it will affect Smithfields [sic] reputation and relationship with clients.”

In the trial that ended on Oct. 8, Wilcox prevented the activists from arguing a necessity defense, where the defendant proves that they intended to prevent imminent harm, but they still raised relevant points in their arguments.

“You call it ‘rescue,’ but really it’s taking, isn’t it?” Macanas asked.

“No,” Hsiung answered. “I’d compare it to a dog in a hot car. They are in need of urgent care.”

This historic trial is a step in the right direction for animal rights activists nationwide who hope to spread more awareness about the inhumane treatment of farm animals.