CEDAR CITY — A group of animal rights activists recently followed three hog transport trucks nearly 500 miles from farm to slaughterhouse in an effort to draw attention to their cause.
At a gas station parking lot in Cedar City on the afternoon of July 23, two of the activists spoke with Cedar City News as they waited for the trucks to make the transition from the Minersville Highway to Interstate 15.
Lewis Bernier, an investigator for Direct Action Everywhere, abbreviated as DxE, described the organization as “a grassroots network of animal rights activists across the world.”
“We’re based in California, and we’ve been interested in Smithfield Foods since 2015,” Bernier told Cedar City News. “They are the largest killer of pigs in the United States, the largest pork producer. They own Circle Four farms up in Milford, which is the largest pig farm in the United States.”
Beriner described what he called “horrific conditions” at the farm, including “mother pigs trapped in gestation crates, where they could barely turn around.”
“They were trapped in these crates, impregnated over and over giving birth to babies who lived for six months in the same facility,” he added.
Bernier recounted an incident that made national news a few years ago, in which a group of DxE activists took two young piglets from the Circle Four farm in an effort to rescue them.
“In 2016, when we did this investigation, we found two baby piglets that were dying. They were trapped under their mother, laying in a pile of her feces,” Bernier said. “A lot of their brothers and sisters had already passed away. And we knew that they were just garbage to the industry.”
The activists removed the piglets from the farm and took them to a veterinarian to receive medical care, Bernier said.
“As a result of that, all five activists were charged with felonies,” he said. “They were charged with up to 60 years in prison for having these two baby piglets that were considered trash.”
“Ever since then, we’ve been fascinated by this place,” Bernier added. “We’ve been back a number of times, but this is the first time that we’re following a truck all the way from the farm to the slaughterhouse.”
Fellow activist Raven Deerbrook, who rode in the same vehicle as Bernier during the trip, previously made a 10-minute documentary called “Unseen,” with the help of a whistleblower on the inside. The main link to the video on DxE’s website was written on a rear window of the rental vehicle (warning: video contains images that some may find disturbing).
Just before getting on southbound I-15 in Cedar City last week, Bernier, Deerbook and one other activist decorated the outside of their white rental SUV with corn syrup with red food coloring, giving the appearance of dripping blood. They then placed a large yellow sign in the back window reading, “Caution: Tortured Animals Ahead,” so that other motorists on I-15 would notice.
Deerbrook said animal cruelty is only part of the story: people are also potentially at risk.
“As we’re discovering, Smithfield is threatening our communities by creating the conditions necessary for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to flourish, and new, novel zoonotic diseases to be created in our country,” she said, mentioning one emergent virus in particular called “Swine Flu 2.0″, also known as “G4 Swine Flu” or G4-EA-H1N1.
“Right now in other parts of the world, G4 Swine Flu is spreading very fast between between facilities,” Deerbrook said, adding the risk is but one of several health hazards to which workers at any stage of production may be exposed.
The activists’ nine-hour, 480-mile trip ended when the three trucks, each carrying approximately 200 pigs, arrived at a slaughterhouse in Vernon, California, near the heart of downtown Los Angeles. As the journey concluded, Deerbrook reported that the livestream of the event received more than 920,000 views on Facebook, which she said was the most ever for one of the group’s broadcasts.
“Smithfield is a profit machine built on the exploitation of human and non-human individuals, and the general public deserves to know the truth,” Deerbrook added.
Contacted by Cedar City News for comment, a spokesperson for Virginia-based Smithfield Foods released a written statement denouncing the group and its tactics.
“DxE is an extremist animal rights group known for aggressive, misleading tactics aimed at promoting a vegan lifestyle,” said the statement, attributed to Keira Lombardo, executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance at Smithfield Foods.
“Their recent activity targeting our operations is just another example of their ongoing campaign against animal agriculture, aimed at our company and the industry, which disregards the facts, relies on a false narrative and promotes a slanted agenda aimed at eradicating animal agriculture,” Lombardo added.
Lombardo said Smithfield prides itself on being an industry leader in animal care, which she called “central to our operational and business success.”
“As the largest hog producer in the United States, we have a responsibility to prioritize the health, safety and comfort of our animals,” she said.
The company touts its commitment to animal care on a portion of its website, which reads in part, “Our Animal Care Management System, policies and procedures guide the care of our animals at all stages of their lives — from gestation to transportation to processing.”
Lombardo added: “Our focus on animal care is also a point of pride, underpinning our culture, where the health and well-being of our 20 million-plus market hogs produced annually is woven into the work we do every day.”
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