Charges dropped against animal rights activist who secretly filmed Iowa pigs being killed
A northeast Iowa county attorney has dropped trespass charges against an animal rights activist who secretly filmed a company destroying thousands of pigs it was unable to send to packinghouses during last spring’s coronavirus shutdowns.
Grundy County Attorney Erica Allen filed a motion Thursday to dismiss a felony trespass charge against Direct Action Everywhere’s Matt Johnson, who secretly filmed Iowa Select destroying thousands of pigs there in May.
Johnson still faces felony charges in a separate Wright County case where he and other activists documented what they said was animal abuse and “rescued a sick piglet” that would have been killed.
Allen indicated West Des Moines-based Iowa Select had contacted her and asked that the Grundy County case be dismissed after Johnson subpoenaed employees to testify. The six employees Johnson’s attorney subpoenaed included owner Jeff Hansen.
Johnson said Friday he had wanted the employees questioned in his trial to show their actions violated Iowa livestock neglect laws. He also said it would be “in the public interest “ to hear company executives “publicly defending the suffering they willfully (and lucratively) inflict on animals, their own employees, and the general public.”
Iowa Select’s “own actions — stifling dissent every way they can, while refusing any sort of open, transparent dialogue — illustrates that they’re very aware of how shameful their actions truly are,” he said.
Iowa Select, the nation’s fourth-largest pork producer, has denied any wrongdoing and said it worked with veterinarians to determine how best to destroy the animals it was unable to slaughter. It said Friday it asked that the charges be dropped because it “cannot be distracted by individuals who choose to break the law and grandstand.”
The nonjury trial was slated for Monday. Each trespass charge carried a maximum penalty, upon conviction, of 30 days in jail.
Producers across the Midwest struggled last year to slaughter market-ready pigs, cattle, chickens and other livestock after meatpacking plants temporarily shuttered when workers became ill with COVID-19.
Johnson, contacted by an Iowa Select whistleblower concerned about animal welfare, secretly filmed the company killing the pigs in a rural confinement facility by shutting down building’s ventilation and piping in steam heat, raising the temperature in the building. Direct Action Everywhere described the pigs as “shrieking in agony.”
Iowa Select said it “exhausted every possible option,” from finding more barn space to donating pork to food banks and employees, before deciding to destroy the animals.
The American Association of Swine Veterinarians said shutting down a confinement’s ventilation to cause hyperthermia is an acceptable form of euthanasia in “constrained circumstances.” The group’s board identified the COVID-19 meatpacking disruption as one of those situations.
The video, which the group said was taken with a hidden camera, opens with a shot of pigs milling in a large, enclosed space. In another scene shot through a fog that the group said was steam, the barely visible pigs can be heard squealing. In a third scene, two men carrying what the group said were bolt guns walk among the apparently dead pigs, nudging them with their feet. In a final scene, a front-end loader scoops up the carcasses.
Direct Action Everywhere says it has been active in Iowa, seeking to expose inhumane treatment of animals in confined animal operations to challenge the state’s so-called ag-gag law.
The statute makes it a crime for animal welfare activists, journalists and others to go undercover at meatpacking plants and livestock facilities to document conditions.