Four animal activists who took pictures of a large southwestern Utah hog farm plead not guilty to charges filed under a controversial law that criminalizes undercover investigations of slaughterhouses and factory farms.
The four from California and Maryland entered the pleas last Wednesday and Thursday to charges of trespass and agricultural operation interference. They are the first to be prosecuted under Utah’s “ag-gag” law for allegedly taking photos of Circle Four Farms near Milford, Utah, and owned by Murphy-Brown LLC. – a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc.
The activists from the Farm Animal Rights Movement are accused of driving onto private property at Circle Four Farms and taking pictures Sept. 24.
A lawyer for the group says they were on a public road and took images of buildings, not animals or workers. T. Matthew Phillips, attorney for the four defendants, Robert Penney, Sarah Jane Hardt, Harold Weiss and Bryan Monell, told local media that the suspects were attempting to document the journey of hogs from farm in Utah to the slaughterhouse in Los Angeles. He stated his clients never stepped on the farm’s property.
In September, Iron County Justice court charged each with one count of class B misdemeanor criminal trespassing on agricultural land and agricultural interference.
A second count against them comes under a law that makes it a crime to conduct undercover investigations of slaughterhouses and factory farms. It’s being challenged by activists who say it’s designed to prevent exposure of unsafe practices.
Six other states have similar measures, but the only person to be charged was also from Utah.