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Activists Acquitted in Smithfield Pig Heist

The case has far-reaching implications in how the courts view the concept of "theft" versus "rescue."

A widely watched case pitting animal welfare advocates against a Fortune 500 company has come to a conclusion and the results could have far-reaching implications in how the courts view the concept of “theft” versus “rescue.”

In 2017, two members of an animal rights group called Direct Action Everywhere (or, DxE) were investigating conditions for pigs being raised for slaughter at Circle Four Farms, a Utah-based factory farm owned by Smithfield Foods.

While on site, the two men – Wayne Hsiung and Paul Picklesimer – reportedly discovered two newborn piglets they determined to be sick and dangerously underweight. They then removed the piglets, took them for veterinary care, and transferred them to an animal sanctuary.

When the incident was discovered, the two men were charged with felony burglary and theft and were facing up to five and half years in prison pending the results of their trial.

In what’s being viewed as a huge victory for opponents of animal cruelty, a jury has unanimously agreed that the two men be acquitted for their actions, with legal experts suggesting this could lay the groundwork for a legal “right to rescue” – establishing a difference between what took place and what would be considered theft.

The pig rescue operation reportedly occurred during an attempt by DxE to verify whether Smithfield had ceased to use highly-criticized “gestation crates” that were too small for pregnant pigs to turn around in. They contend they did find these, despite Smithfield pledging to no longer use them at Circle Four. Throughout the course of this, the men from DxE say they also found dead and sick piglets, including the two in question – who they named Lilly and Lizzie.

During the trial, defendant Hsiung told the jury that if the right to rescue were established, perhaps "companies will be a little more compassionate to creatures under their stewardship. Governments will be a little more open to animal cruelty complaints. And maybe, just maybe, a baby pig like Lilly won't have to starve to death on the floor of a factory farm."

According to the New York Times, the verdict was surprising considering the trial took place in a region that relies heavily on corporations like Smithfield for jobs. Even Hsiung was “stunned” by the verdict but called it “a resounding message about accountability and transparency.”

As for Lilly and Lizzie, they are said to be alive and well and living at the same animal sanctuary where they were originally sent after the ordeal.

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