Five animal rights activists are due to appear in court this week facing felony charges after removing animals from a factory farm.
The activists, from global animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere [DxE], will appear in Utah courts twice this week.
According to reports they are facing up to 60 years in prison, following the uncover investigation - and removal of animals - from Smithfield’s Circle Four Farms in Milford.
The Utah Attorney General's Office charged Wayne Hsiung, 36, of Berkeley, CA; Paul Picklesimer, 40, of Berkeley, CA; Samer Masterson, 24, of San Francisco, CA; Andrew Sharo, 24, of Berkeley, CA; and Jonathan Frohnmayer, 33, of Santa Clara, CA, with engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, two counts of burglary committed against an animal enterprise, and theft of livestock, all second-degree felonies. All but Masterson were also charged with riot, a class A misdemeanor.
The same five activists, plus Diane Gandee Sorbi, 63, of Redwood City, CA, are also scheduled to appear Wednesday in Sanpete County Court in Utah, where they face two felony theft charges for the removal of a turkey chick.
'Not a crime'
According to the activists, they documented animal cruelty at the facilities. They removed one piglet - Lily - would they say was dying, taking her to a vet.
DxE Co-founder and former Law Professor Wayne Hsiung cited a legal opinion by a criminal law scholar and said: "Rescuing animals from abuse is not a crime.
"Lily would have ended up in the garbage with hundreds of other dead piglets on site."
Following the removal, the FBI launched a nationwide 'pig hunt' after designating the rescue a violation of the potential Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
According to a DxE spokesperson: "Activists say the charges illustrate the disproportionate influence held by agribusiness and food conglomerates like Smithfield and Whole Foods.
"It was recently revealed that one of the prosecuting attorneys targeting DxE works for Smithfield in his private practice.
"The activists say the legal process has been distorted by ties like this, leading to unconstitutional measures such as the repealed Utah 'ag gag' law, and to misuse of taxpayer funds."
The activists documented the investigation at Smithfield
Hsiung said: "Baby pigs at Smithfield suffer mutilation, starvation, and abuse, and the company doesn’t want the public to know about it.
"This is an effort to intimidate activists who are exposing misconduct - at the cost of millions in taxpayer dollars.
He - along with his fellow activists - say the string of charges 'will not discourage them from their efforts on behalf of animals', and are planning to appear in court to contest all charges - and continue their campaigns against Smithfield, Whole Foods and other corporate factory farms.
In a statement to Plant Based News, Smithfield said: "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."