Utah animal rights case raising questions about the American food system

Nov 22, 2022, 8:00 AM | Updated: 10:41 am
Animal activists Paul Picklesimer and Wayne Hsiung with two rescued piglets American food system....
Paul Picklesimer and Wayne Hsiung with two rescued piglets. (Michelle Del Cueto/ Direct Action Everywhere)
(Michelle Del Cueto/ Direct Action Everywhere)

SALT LAKE CITY — A case for animal rights is now offering new insights into ethical farming practices and how to protect animals under the law.

There are no federal laws protecting animals on farms. But two activists were recently tried for burglary when, in their words, they were offering protection that wasn’t being given. The activists said they were rescuing the pigs — not stealing them.

Wayne Hsiung and Paul Picklesimer faced 10 years in prison for burglary charges after two piglets disappeared from Utah’s largest pig farm.

After a week in court, Hsiung and Pciklesimer were found not guilty. They say it sends a clear message that the basic standards for how our farm animals are treated aren’t up to snuff.

When judges start ruling against large-scale farm corporations it creates space to question: “What is wrong with our current food system?” 

It starts with the people

Animal cruelty laws are different from state to state. Under Utah law, the definition of “animal” excludes livestock. That means farm animals — like cows, sheep, and pigs — are not protected by the state’s animal cruelty statutes

“Legislation is certainly part of the equation, but it starts with the people,” said Hsiung. “Our main objective is to raise awareness of what is actually happening and allow their conscience to move the food system in the [right] direction.” 

Hsiung and Picklesimer believe education and awareness are major keys to having a more compassionate outlook toward the food system.

Comparatively those at Smithfield Farms, the largest pig farm in the nation, feel the verdict posed a threat to the well-being of animals. 

“They risked the lives of the animals 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,” Smithfield Farms wrote in a response to the verdict. 

Although video footage of the stolen pigs showed biohazards like animal carcasses and blood pools, Smithfield Farms, offered assurances in its response that the animals in the company’s care are safe and healthy. 

“From the farm to our processing facilities, we continue to uphold our steadfast commitment to the safety, health and comfort of our animals through biosecurity, regular veterinary care, and safe, comfortable housing through every stage of our animals’ lives,” The Smithfield website reads. 

But do those assurances address what was seen in the video? The Humane Society points out: “Even suffering pigs grow bigger, abused cows produce milk and neglected hens lay eggs.”

Other possible solutions

Hsiung’s and Picklesimer’s goal is to draw awareness to animal cruelty — but can that can be accomplished without taking animals from farms? 

The two are encouraging consumers to remember that billions of farm animals are reportedly tortured annually and that this is the first time a commercial facility has been held accountable. 

Simply put,  Hsiung and Picklesimer attribute the historic moment, where a large corporation faced consequences, to the rescuing of the piglets.

However, Smithfield Farms believes the activists are undermining livestock agriculture. 

Smithfield Farms declined further comment, but in a public release the company said it raises pigs to feed people with “wholesome, nutritious and affordable protein.”

Picklesimer and Hsiung are thought of as counterproductive and deviating from Smithfield’s mission of “high standards for animal care”, according to the company’s response to the verdict.

“Americans have always used nonviolent direct action to create change,” said Hsiung. “That’s all we’re doing.”

What comes next?

Human beings are usually the subjects of abuse laws in the United States. This can be attributed to the fact that there are federal laws protecting animals on farms.

Picklesimer and Hsiung believe government involvement is the next step., and the changes in animal rights will occur after more people learn and become aware of conditions in the industry.. 

Both admitted whether their verdict was guilty or innocent, which would have raised awareness about their actions, as well as the overall treatment of animals by American food producers. 

This story is the first of a two-part series. 

Related reading

Nations largest pig farm exposed, two face criminal charges

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Utah animal rights case raising questions about the American food system