Demonstrators carried the stiff carcasses of several dead piglets into the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, saying the deceased animals are clear signs that some farms in Utah engage in animal cruelty as part of their everyday business practices and that needs to change.
The group, the California-based Direct Action Everywhere, hoped to drop off letters and show the piglets — which they called “concrete, visual proof” of cruelty — to Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Attorney General Sean Reyes. They want to prompt an investigation into the Milford-based pig farm Circle Four Farms, according to a Facebook Live video recording of the demonstration.
The group is specifically asking for officials to investigate the public health risks associated with large-scale animal agriculture, as well as potential violations of Utah’s animal cruelty statute. Demonstrators were ultimately barred from Reyes’ office and only spoke with (and gave their letter to) Herbert’s Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Mower.
Among the estimated 100 people at the rally was “Babe” star James Cromwell, who became a vegan after appearing in the 1995 film. About half of those who participated were from Utah, according to the group’s spokesman.
The demonstrators didn’t reveal the farm from which the dead piglets were taken. But they said some of the piglets were likely killed by factory workers because they were too small. They asserted workers likely used a practice known as “thumping,” which means picking up a piglet and whipping its head to the ground. Piglets, they alleged, are also killed in factory farms because of neglect due to gestation crates, where nursing sows are confined away from their litter. The group said the crates are so small, the sows cannot turn around.
A spokesperson for Smithfield, the parent company of Circle Four Farms, didn’t respond a request for comment Tuesday.
“We want to show them the vivid, grim reality,” demonstrator Wayne Hsiung said about the dead piglets.
Hsiung has been charged in two Utah cases related to his animal activism. In both cases, he is accused of taking animals — including Lily the piglet from Circle Four Farms and Abby the turkey from Norbest farms in Sanpete County — to animal sanctuaries. Direct Action Everywhere spokesman Matt Johnson said recently more than 60 activists in their network have been charged with felonies for documenting the living conditions of animals in farms and/or stealing animals from farms.
Johnson said the group isn’t identifying the farm where the dead piglets were found for fear of repercussions for the whistleblower.
“It wasn’t really about the pig," Johnson said about the criminal investigation. “I don’t think they care too much about the value of these piglets. … So it’s really about intimidation.”
Talking to Mower at the Capitol, Cromwell asked him to consider the plot of “Babe” — where, spoiler alert, a pig is saved from being eaten and discovers his destiny in herding sheep — and apply its principles to life.
"It’s a question of heart. Do you have the heart and compassion to see this creature as something viable in this world? Like any other sentient being? Because if we don’t deal with this appropriately, we’re not going to deal with each other appropriately,” Cromwell said.
Mower listened to the activists’ concerns and thanked them for their time. After the meeting, Cromwell said he was dissatisfied with Mower’s response. He told demonstrators their treatment Tuesday proves that lawmakers and public officials don’t listen to the voice of the people — but said they will listen to votes.
“Recognize, resist, persist,” he said. “Bless your hearts.”
Later Tuesday, Mower released a statement about the demonstration, saying, “No one should want to see any animal suffer. We’re grateful to the vast majority of Utah farmers and ranchers who take seriously their stewardship over the land and animals. Nevertheless, we believe this group raised some points that merit review.”
Representatives for Reyes and Cox did not respond to The Tribune’s requests for comment.
After the demonstration at the Capitol, the activists drove to Milford to Circle Four Farms to “bear witness, mourn the loss of those we couldn’t save, and train ourselves to one day free them all,” according to a Facebook event description. Facebook Live video from the meeting shows activists asked farm officials to give up one piglet, similar to how the group said Norbest farms gave up 100 turkeys to its members Monday.
Activists were met by police and a representative from Circle Four Farms who took video of them but did not to talk to them.