Published on
April 18, 2020

Coordinated Nationwide Protests Against Smithfield Follow Outbreaks, Exposés And Prosecutions

Protesters of Smithfield slaughterhouses and vendors say it undermines the well-being of employees, animals, whistleblowers and the public
DxE activists Friday outside a San Francisco Costco store which sells Smithfield pork (Credit: Direct Action Everywhere)
DxE activists Friday outside a San Francisco Costco store which sells Smithfield pork (Credit: Direct Action Everywhere)

APRIL 17, NATIONWIDE - With Smithfield shuttering plants across the country due to widespread COVID-19 outbreaks and even deaths among employees, activists with the animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) suggest that we don’t bother opening them back up. Calling factory farms “breeding grounds for pandemic disease,” protesters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, South Dakota, Indiana and beyond protested to get their #CancelAnimalAg demands heard Friday.

In consideration of the COVID-19 outbreak, they followed similar protocols to the veterinarian-approved biosecurity measures deployed for their work investigating industrial factory farms, and practiced six-foot social distancing. Wearing protective masks and gloves, activists used CAUTION tape and “CANCEL ANIMAL AG” signage to visualize their message, and delivered speeches about the destructiveness of animal agriculture.

The protesters sought to draw attention to DxE’s disturbing findings inside Smithfield factory farms in California, Utah and North Carolina, including rampant antibiotic drug use and antibiotic-resistant disease, and mother pigs living in gestation crates just larger than their bodies, surrounded by their own dead and dying babies.

Adding insult to injury, the whistleblowers exposing this misconduct have been hit with felony charges and now face years behind bars.

DxE recently launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #CancelAnimalAg, including a Facebook profile photo frame used by thousands in multiple languages around the world, which calls for “Social distancing to slow COVID-19 -- Cancel animal ag to stop the next pandemic before it starts.” They have also published a policy memorandum with related legislative proposals for elected officials.

The #CancelAnimalAg campaign aims to highlight the existential threats posed by animal agriculture. COVID-19, like the Spanish Flu, H5N1 Bird Flu (with a human mortality rate of 60%), Swine Flu, and many other outbreaks before it, is a zoonotic pathogen -- meaning it is transmitted between to humans from (usually closely-confined) animals. This means factory farms are ideal settings for pandemic disease to mutate and spread rapidly, with animals crowded together by the tens of thousands, surrounded by feces and urine which makes them highly susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Furthermore, scientists agree that the use of antibiotics in livestock -- accounting for over 60% of the total antibiotic use in this country -- contributes significantly to the problem of drug resistance. This resistance, in turn, fuels the growth of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, a risk the World Health Organization says poses one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today, which could kill 10 million people every year by 2050.

Arguably violating various statewide shelter-in-place orders, demonstrators contend that the protest is not just morally but legally-justified -- citing the necessity defense successfully invoked by climate activists, among others. (The necessity defense eliminates liability of would-be criminal conduct committed as a last-resort to prevent a greater harm.) Animal agriculture has also been cited as a major contributor to climate change.

“Shelter-in-place orders rightfully exempt essential functions,’” said Paul Darwin Picklesimer, a DxE investigator facing decades in prison after investigating a Smithfield farm in Utah. “And with our current course accelerating us towards inevitable destruction, exposing the dangerous nature of this industry is essential to preserving life as we know it. It’s actually essential that we transition away from animal agriculture -- yet ironically it’s one of the exempted carve-outs, enabling the pandemic-brewing to persist as rapidly as ever.”

DxE says Smithfield is just one prominent example of the undue influence of animal agriculture. Ordinary people, the activists say, don’t support the harm caused by animal ag, but have been deceived by large corporations like Smithfield.

“With employees literally dying, animals being systematically tortured, and future deadly pandemics brewing in factory farms as we speak, Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan has the audacity to say that ‘the right thing for Americans is that we operate these plants,’” said Picklesimer. “It might be the best thing for his multimillion-dollar salary, but the best thing for the rest of us is to transition away from the needless devastation of animal ag ASAP.”

Investigators with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) enter farms, slaughterhouses, and other agricultural facilities to document abuses and rescue sick and injured animals. DxE’s investigatory work has been featured in The New York Times, ABC Nightline, and a viral Glenn Greenwald exposé. DxE activists led the 2019 grassroots effort to ban fur products in California. Activists have been subjected to FBI raids and felony prosecutions for these investigations and rescues. Visit Direct Action Everywhere on Facebook, at and on Twitter @DxEverywhere.

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