FBI raids animal shelters, searching for piglets rescued from Utah factory farm, activists say

An animal-rights group that rescued two piglets from a factory farm in southwestern Utah says the FBI has raided animal sanctuaries in search of the animals.

Direct Action Everywhere, also known as DxE, is a nonprofit based in California that supports “total animal liberation,” according to its website. It is known for entering factory farms in the dark of night to rescue animals it claims are being kept in unhealthy conditions and to show the links between such sites and Costco, Whole Foods and even the White House.

Earlier this year, the group took two pigs it named “Lucy” and “Ethel” from a hog farm operation in Milford, Utah, that is owned by the Virginia-based Smithfield Foods.

“Piglets were rotting to death in piles of their own mother’s feces at Smithfield,” DxE co-founder Wayne Hsiung said in a statement last week. “Rescuing them was an act of compassion, not a crime. But Smithfield doesn’t want the public to see the horrifying truth of how they produce their pork.”

Smithfield, which is itself owned by Shuanghui International of China, denied the allegations and blasted the group’s video of its incursion.

“Direct Action Everywhere released an undercover video showing its creators trespassing onto company property, breaking into a barn, stealing animals and violating Smithfield’s strict biosecurity policy to prevent the spread of disease onto our farms,” a spokeswoman for the company said in an email. “The video features blatant inaccuracies and assertions, which could not be farther from the truth.”

DxE now says the FBI raided two animal sanctuaries in recent weeks in search of Lucy and Ethel — Ching Farm Rescue in Herriman, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado. Hsiung said his group is not affiliated with either sanctuary.

The FBI acknowledged that it had visited both shelters, and the Smithfield spokeswoman referred questions about the case to the Beaver County Sheriff’s Office in Utah, which did not return a request for comment.

“I can say that we were at the two locations conducting court-authorized activity related to an ongoing investigation,” FBI spokeswoman Sandra Barker wrote in an email. “Because it’s ongoing, I’m not able to provide any more details at this time.”

An individual familiar with the investigation who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the FBI confirmed the agency raided Ching Farm Rescue. Armed agents in bulletproof vests brought a search warrant seeking DNA from pigs at the facility, which has about 100 hogs, sheep, goats, horses and emus, according to the person. The agents did not succeed in getting those samples because “they basically were intimidated by the pigs.”

“I really don’t understand it,” the individual said of the bureau action. “I’ve never heard of anything like this in my life.”

The FBI also raided Luvin Arms seeking a DNA sample, according to another person familiar with the investigation who also wished to remain anonymous for fear of FBI retribution. Agents arrived there on Aug. 31 and cut an inch-and-a-half slice from both of one pig’s ears, the person said, leaving onlookers “screaming and crying” and the young 50-pound animal squealing in distress.

“Everyone is so distraught at this point, the FBI decides [they’re] not going to take samples of the other pigs,” the individual recounted.

In a videotaped statement and an online petition, Hsiung criticized the FBI and the Justice Department for spending resources ostensibly searching for Lucy and Ethel. Animal rights activists held a vigil Sunday outside Smithfield’s Milford location, which it calls Circle Four Farms, to highlight their accusations and criticism of the government’s action.

“The fact that the FBI is willing to harass animal shelters in two states … is an indication of the absurdity of their investigation,” Hsiung said via email.

Justin Marceau, a law professor at the University of Denver who is not affiliated with DxE, said its incursions into factory farms present “novel legal questions.” If animals are mistreated or near death, he asked, should the federal government spend time and resources investigating groups that seek to rescue them?

He noted that states such as Idaho and Kansas have “ag-gag” laws that target whistleblowing at agricultural facilities. Marceau successfully challenged Utah’s ag-gag law in court earlier this year. The state attorney general’s office said last week that it would not appeal the case.