A week before SCOTUS began hearings on Prop 12, jurors in St. George, Utah announced a landmark win for animals in Smithfield Foods vs. DxE. Wayne Hsuing and Paul Pickelsimer, animal advocates from Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), had been prosecuted for removing two sick and dying piglets from a Smithfield factory farm and bringing them to a sanctuary.
The activists had performed an “open rescue,” a form of civil disobedience where people visibly remove animals from harm and are willing to face legal consequences. The first documented open rescue in the U.S. occurred in 1986 when Farm Sanctuary rescued Hilda, a downed sheep discarded on a pile of dead animals behind Lancaster Stockyards in Pennsylvania.
Every year, millions of piglets in the pig industry die before they’re of weaning age — nearly 16 to 20 percent of individuals born on factory farms. The two individuals rescued by DxE, Lily and Lizzie, would have been part of that statistic had rescuers not intervened.
While these small, ailing pigs had little to no economic value, prosecutors from the state of Utah and the federal government spent a disproportionate amount of time and resources to track them down and prosecute their rescuers. In one instance, FBI agents raided an animal sanctuary and took a piece of a pig’s ear to get their DNA — aiming to prove that the animals were “owned” by Smithfield. In court, the state argued that DxE activists stole valuable property and should be convicted of felony burglary. If convicted, Hsuing and Pickelsimer each faced up to 10 years in prison.
The case centered around whether farm animals are products or living beings who deserve compassion. The state argued that this matter was about theft, not animal cruelty, and denied evidence of wanton animal abuse at Smithfield. The prosecutor even derided the idea of rescuing these suffering animals, comparing the kind action to rescuing a dented, damaged can from the grocery store. Meanwhile, the defendants asserted that they had an ethical duty to take action and intervene to prevent unnecessary suffering.
In his closing argument, defendant Hsuing addressed the jury directly, saying, “We all have a duty to be kind. And your decision today, if you make a good one, will make the world a little bit of a kinder place even for a baby pig in a factory farm.” After deliberation, the jury came back with their unanimous verdict, finding Hsuing and Pickelsimer not guilty on all counts — a critical victory not just for the DxE defendants, but for farm animals and advocates across the country.
We are proud of Farm Sanctuary’s legacy as a champion for open rescue, and we are grateful to the lawyers, allies, activists, and conscientious consumers across the country who are helping change how our society views and treats farm animals.