Australian consultation on ivory ends Thursday 7th June 2018

Elephants in a herd

Introduction of ivory bill boosts fight against elephant poaching

The Ivory Bill introduced to Parliament 23 May 2018

Press release from Department for Environment, Food & Rural AffairsForeign & Commonwealth Office, and The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

One of the toughest bans on ivory sales in the world is a step closer to coming into force in the UK as the Government today (23 May 2018) introduced the Ivory Bill.

The introduction of this Bill means that robust measures set out last month by Environment Secretary Michael Gove are a step closer to becoming law, and helping to protect elephants for future generations.

The Bill covers ivory items of all ages, not only those produced after a certain date, subject to some narrow, carefully-defined exemptions. The maximum penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

The Bill follows widespread engagement with environmental groups and the antiques trade sector as well as the general public. More than 70,000 people and organisations responded to Defra’s consultation on an ivory ban late last year, with over 88% of responses in favour of measures to ban ivory sales in the UK.

The number of elephants has declined by almost a third in the last decade and around 20,000 a year are still being slaughtered because of the global demand for ivory. The UK Government continues to show global leadership in this area and in October will play host to leaders from across the globe at the fourth international conference on the illegal wildlife trade.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said:

Elephants are one of the world’s most iconic animals and we must do all we can to protect them for future generations. That’s why we will introduce one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales. The overwhelmingly positive response to our consultation shows the strength of public feeling to protect these magnificent animals.

We have acted quickly in introducing this Bill, less than six weeks after publishing our consultation responses. I hope this serves as a clear sign of our global leadership on this vital issue.

As announced in April’s consultation response, the Bill provides for narrowly-defined and carefully-targeted exemptions for items which do not contribute directly or indirectly to the poaching of elephants:

  • Items with only a small amount of ivory. Such items must be comprised of less than 10% ivory by volume and have been made prior to 1947
  • Musical instruments. These must have an ivory content of less than 20% and have been made prior to 1975
  • The rarest and most important items of their type. Items of outstanding artistic, cultural or historic significance, and made prior to 1918 Such items will be assessed by specialists at institutions such as the UK’s most prestigious museums
  • Sales to and between accredited museums. This applies museums accredited by Arts Council Englandthe Welsh GovernmentMuseums and Galleries Scotlandor the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK, or the International Council of Museums outside the UK
  • Portrait miniatures. A specific exemption for portrait miniatures – which were often painted on thin slivers of ivory – made before 1918

The combination of the UK’s ban on ivory items of all ages with these exemptions delivers one of the toughest ivory bans in the world. The US federal ban has a rolling exemption for items over 100 years, as well as items with up to 50% ivory content. China’s ban exempts ivory “relics”, but this term is not clearly defined.

Charlie Mayhew MBE, Founder and CEO of Tusk Trust said:

We very much welcome the speed with which the Government has moved to introduce this important bill. The public response to the consultation demonstrated that there is overwhelming support for this tough new legislation to ban the trade in ivory in the UK.

This bill will ensure that as the Government prepares to host the next international conference on the illegal wildlife trade in October, the UK will once again be taking a global lead on closing ivory markets that have resulted in the decimation of hundreds of thousands of elephants over recent years. We trust that Parliament will move equally swiftly to pass the bill into law.

Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF said:

Every day we lose around 55 African elephants, slaughtered for their ivory. If we want to ensure this majestic animal still roams a generation from now, we must shut down domestic ivory markets around the world.

The London Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference this October can be a catalyst for that, but progress towards a UK ban is essential if we are to persuade other countries to take action. It’s great to see this Bill being introduced to the Commons, and we hope it now passes speedily through Parliament to become law.

John Stephenson, Stop Ivory CEO said:

We welcome this speedy introduction of the legislation to end ivory sales in the UK. The pace at which important proposals are being underscored by legislation is a welcome and important contribution to ending the scourge of poaching and securing a sustainable future for elephants.

Hopefully the remainder of the EU will now follow the UK’s lead without further delay and implement the changes that their populations have been demanding.

As profits become ever greater, the illegal wildlife trade has become a transnational organised enterprise, estimated to be worth up to £17billion a year.

In October, the UK will show global leadership in this fight when it hosts the fourth international conference on the illegal wildlife trade. The event will bring global leaders to London to tackle the strategic challenges of the trade. This follows the ground breaking London 2014 conference on the illegal wildlife trade, and subsequent conferences in Botswana and Vietnam.



Protest against the cruelty to India’s temple elephants


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Protest at India High Commission in London against the barbaric cruelty to India’s temple elephants

There are around 40,000 elephants in Asia. Around 60% of them live in India, and 3,500–4,000 are captive, used for tourism, temples and festivals. The state of Kerala has the majority of privately owned elephants in India, and it is ground zero for elephant torture.

Temple elephants are not part of any tradition

The use of elephants in temples and festivals is not part of Indian culture, nor do Hindu scriptures anywhere say that elephants should be used in temple rituals. On the contrary, the barbaric treatment of these elephants goes completely against the core beliefs of Hinduism. How are the two things reconciled? They’re not. Temple elephants have nothing to do with tradition but everything to do with wealth and keeping the status quo. They are seen only as commodities, earning huge sums of money for their owners and the temples.

Temples in India are mainly run by government-appointed devaswom boards, and the state government has a large stake in the money that temples make. In Kerala, four devaswoms manage nearly 3,000 temples, all under government control; each temple earns the government many millions of rupees. The temples are nothing more than a money-generating, lucrative business portal for the Kerala Government.

Exploited under the veneer of culture and religion, elephants are big business. Everyone, from the chief minister downwards, has a stake in the multi-million dollar elephant business.

A lifetime of cruelty and pain

The elephants are forced to suffer unimaginable cruelty and abuse throughout their lives. They are denied adequate water, food, shelter and veterinary care. They are paraded beneath the scorching sun on hot tar roads. In order to restrain the gigantic animal the handlers use banned weapons such as bullhooks, and restrain them with heavy shackles around their front and hind ankles. Often the shackles are tightened so severely that they cut through the flesh, causing raw bleeding wounds that are seldom treated. They are forced to run races shackled in chains, with mahouts prodding them with bullhooks and beating them with sticks. They are often forced to stand in the same position 24/7, in their urine and excrement, suffering from foot rot. They are beaten and tortured time and again.

Most of Kerala’s captive elephants – around 424, the highest density of captive elephants in any state – are bulls (male elephants). When males enter into their annual musth, their testosterone levels and energy surge, and they’re overwhelmed by the urge to mate. The shackles are tightened severely to restrain them, as the bulls tend to become more dominant during this time. In the wild, the bulls wander for hours on end, finding mates and fighting with other bulls. In captivity they are literally unable to move at all, and become frustrated and aggressive. These elephants are starved of food and water, in order to make them weak and submissive.

After they emerge from musth they are subjected the cruellest torture yet. It’s a secret tradition that involves 7 or 8 drunken men beating the chained elephant for 48 to 72 hours straight. It’s called Ketti Azhikkal, part of unchaining the bulls after their musth. The practice is based on a superstitious belief that the elephants may have forgotten their commands during their musth. It’s designed to break the elephant’s spirit and remind him that his masters are in control. All bull elephants in Kerala have to undergo this horrifically cruel practice every single year.

The elephants used in festivals and temples are abused until they die a miserable and painful death. Senior elephants beyond 60 years of age are purposely neglected and abused, so the owners can make hefty insurance claims.

The captive elephants, many taken from the wild, often cannot survive the unrelenting neglect and torture. In just the past two years, 46 elephants in Kerala have died – 26 in 2016, and 20 in 2017 – and there have already been deaths this year . They sometimes break free and run amok, unable to take the brutality anymore; sometimes people get killed too in these desperate rampages.

All the laws of the land are broken or ignored; the elephants are paraded illegally with no ownership papers, no parade certificates and with fake fitness certificates. All of this breaks the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which says that animals in a Schedule 1 category (which includes elephants) cannot be exploited for profit. Recent laws that prohibit the use of disabled, sick or pregnant elephants in festivals are also being ignored. The authorities and state government turn a blind eye, content with keeping the status quo.


The abuse suffered by India’s temple elephants is the worst case of animal cruelty in the world, because of the intensity of the torture – from the shackling in chains to round-the-clock beatings to extreme deprivation of basic needs – and its duration over the animal’s lifetime.


Please keep up to date with posts on the discussion page. We look forward to seeing you on Friday 20th April, 12pm–2pm, at the Indian High Commission, London.

AFEUK team

Indian NGOs and advocates are doing crucial work to push for change and an end to the cruelty, and our campaign in the UK shares the same mission and goals. Our aim is to bring widespread attention to the issue as well as garner international support for a direct appeal to India’s leaders.

We are grateful for the support of Maneka Gandhi, founder of PFA (People for Animals); PETA India; SEW (Society for Elephant Welfare); and WRRC (Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre).

Our huge thanks go to Chitra Iyer of SEW and Subrahmanian Santakumar of WRRC for their invaluable guidance and advice from the start. And to Sangita Iyer, whose film ‘Gods In Shackles’ reveals the dark truth behind the glamourous festivals of Kerala’s temple elephants.

See the event page on our website – and please spread the word!

14 bridging phrases for your next interview

Monday, March 26, 2018

If you’ve read this blog before, particularly when we have analysed media interviews, you will know we talk about bridging a lot.

For those not familiar with the term, or who just need a bit of a refresher, it is a media trainingtechnique which helps spokespeople take control of interviews.

Essentially, it is a way that a spokesperson can respond to a difficult or challenging question which they may not want to answer, by using a form of words to move the conversation back to the topic they really want to talk about.

When it is used well, it sounds very natural and it can be difficult for most people to detect. However, when the technique is used without the necessary subtlety, it is very obvious to the journalist and the audience that bridging is being used.

‘When bridging is used well, it sounds very natural and it can be difficult for most people to detect’ via @mediafirstltd

So what exactly are good bridging phrases? How do you develop a form of words which will get you from the reporter’s question to the message you want to get across?

Well, as we tell delegates on our media training courses, the key to good bridging is for spokespeople to develop their own words and phrases which they feel comfortable with and that work for them.

Where is the best location for media training to take place?But if I left it at that the blog would be pretty short so here are a few pointers to get you started.

For example, the phrase ‘the most important point here’ has been used so often that it is now worn-out and completely lacking in subtlety. Similarly, ‘what I can tell you is’ is also overdone.

Additionally, telling the reporter ‘that’s a good question’ is not bridging. It is a way that a spokesperson can buy a little thinking time, but they still have to respond to that question.

Here are 14 better alternatives:

“That’s how /not how I see it – going back to…”

“That is a concern, but what our customers tell me is more important is…”

“That’s not my experience. When I talk to our customers…”

“People have said that, but the key thing to remember is…”

“I can’t speculate on that, but what I can confirm is…”

“That’s something I will look into, but what we are concerned with now is…”

“That’s an interesting point, but I think the bigger issue is…”

“I’m not sure about that. What I do know is…”

“We need to confirm all the facts before we can talk in detail about that. What we do know is…”

“It’s too early to talk about that, but we do know that…”

“That is a problem, but what we see as an even bigger issue is…”

“That’s something we are looking into, but the thing we are focusing on the most is…”

“I’m not sure that’s the case. What our investigations / research has shown is…”

“That’s one point of view. What I’d also like to say is that…”

The most important thing with bridging is not the words you use. What is crucial is that the spokesperson answers or at least acknowledges the question that they have been asked before trying to move the conversation on. Those who simply try to avoid questions they don’t like appear evasive and defensive.

‘The most important thing with bridging is that the spokesperson answers or at least acknowledges the question before trying to move the conversation on’ via @mediafirstltd

Depending on the nature of the interview, they may need to spend a bit more time responding to the question than we have in the examples given above. If the interview is on a crisis issue, for example, spokespeople need to inject some human warmth and compassion into a response before trying to steer the conversation to their message.

Once they have bridged successfully, the key for spokespeople is then to develop their answers by telling a story or giving an example which is relevant to their target audience and has an element of the unusual or surprising in it.

In most cases the journalist will let you carry on as they know this is good for their audience – and that is ultimately what they care about.

Oracles and models: ancient and modern ways of telling the future


  1. Professor of Ancient History, University of Bristol

    When something unexpected happens to us we still tend to ask “why me?” – and it’s difficult to know where to look for an answer.

    While scientific analysis can provide us with better general comprehension of how the world works, it doesn’t always help us to understand our own experience. And public discussions of risk all too often become arguments about who is to blame, for example, after disastrous flooding.

    In previous eras, we might have turned to the language of fate, luck and fortune. But although still used colloquially, these concepts have lost their explanatory power. In many ways, this is surely a good thing: ideas of fate, luck and fortune have often been linked to moral judgements about people, as happened after Hurricane Katrina.

    But we can also learn a lot from history, specifically the Ancient Greeks and how they conceptualised fate, luck and fortune, and tried to anticipate the future.

    Ancient futures

    In Ancient Greek culture, fate, luck and fortune were familiar, everyday concepts. They were not just imposed by the gods, but were themselves divine forces, invisibly disrupting people’s lives.

    People coped by trying to engage with these forces. One way was to visit an oracle – a temple or sanctuary where a supernatural figure could provide insights into matters that were hidden or unclear, such as future events. The most famous oracle was at Delphi in central Greece, where a woman (the Pythia), possessed by the god Apollo, answered questions posed to her, often by representatives of city-states.

    Examining the thinking behind deciding to visit an oracle can help us to understand why people did this. Before visiting an oracle, to make sure they got the most useful response, consultants had to phrase their questions carefully. To do this they had to reflect on the different ways in which their futures might work out.

    Once they had an answer from the oracle, they had to work out what it meant. Scholarship is undecided as to whether Delphi’s responses were given as riddles that had to be solved or as simple “yes” or “no” responses. Either way, visitors would still have had to try to fit the answer they received to a likely future outcome – and decide on what action they would take.

    Trust in your wooden wall

    Herodotus, the fifth-century BC historian of the Persian Wars gives a famous example of this process. He relates how, as the Persian invaders approached, the city of Athens sent ambassadors to Delphi. The first oracle they received was one of impending doom. The ambassadors felt they could not take this message back to Athens, so they asked for another.

    The second oracle was more puzzling: long and full of vivid imagery, it included the idea that a wooden wall would help the Athenians. The ambassadors took this oracle back to Athens, where the citizens discussed its meaning. Different groups interpreted it differently, and pursued various courses of action, but the majority followed the military commander, Themistocles. He argued that the wooden wall represented the navy and that Delphi was foretelling an Athenian naval victory at Salamis – which, as history tells us, is what actually happened.

    True or not, this episode provides two important insights into ancient Greek futures thinking. First, the Athenians seem to have conceived of their future as being both plural and full of possibilities. Their future was not set in stone, but was something fluid that they could influence. Second, that in the process of thinking about the future, they exercised a crucial skill: storytelling.

    Storytelling and uncertainty

    We all tell stories – it’s so natural we rarely think about it. But in fact, storytelling is a crucial tool for dealing with the unexpected. If we can explore different possible multiple narratives about how the future might turn out, we can make more informed decisions in the present.

    In the process of developing different stories about, and imagining our roles in, different possible futures, there’s room for further learning – about ourselves, and how we respond to particular situations.

    The everyday process of storytelling can support us as individuals in dealing with the unexpected, and – at the policy level – inform how we plan for the future. My discussions on this subject with Claire Craig (chief science policy officer at the Royal Society – here acting in a personal capacity) suggest that thinking about ancient oracles and how they work brings us face-to-face with some aspects of modern approaches to dealing with risk and uncertainty.

    The modern-day oracle speaks. Ditty_about_summer via Shutterstock

    Some of the most important approaches to coping with unexpected events, from economics to the weather, involve modelling: these include scenario planning (an approach to strategy that uses storytelling) and computational modelling. These approaches enable us to imagine in detail what it would be like if a particular future came about.

    Exploring the future

    This does not mean that this approach can tell us what will happen – none of us knows how the future will develop and no model can tell us exactly. We must still think critically about how models are used as evidence, what answers they provide and how the uncertainties around them are presented.

    We also need to take account of what is known about how individuals react to new and challenging information. For example, the effects of confirmation bias may mean that it is difficult for people to change their minds; and individual decisions will be shaped by the interplay of analysis and emotion.

    But telling stories about the future does enable us to explore different possible answers. We can learn a lot from examining the futures that models depict and reflecting on how those imagined environments could shape our behaviour.

    Modelling, oracles: both are technologies of anticipation. With both technologies we need to craft our future stories with care: paying attention to the questions we ask, as well as the answers we create. Perhaps one of the insights from thinking about our pasts is how to approach our futures.

Fall of Troy: the legend and the facts

Graham Bartholomew/BBC/Wild Mercury Productions

The legendary ancient city of Troy is very much in the limelight this year: a big budget co-production between the BBC and Netflix: Troy, Fall of a City, recently launched, while Turkey designated 2018 the “Year of Troy” and plans a year of celebration, including the opening of a new museum on the presumed site.

So what do we know about the city, ruins of which have been painstakingly excavated over the past 150 years? The television series is set around 1300-1200BC, at the height of the Late Bronze Age. During this period Mycenaean city states based in modern-day Greece were competing with the larger Hittite empire (located in modern-day Turkey) to control the trade routes leading towards the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Troy (in ancient Greek, Ἴλιος or Ilios), was located in western Turkey – not far from the modern city of Canakkale (better known as Gallipoli), at the mouth of the Dardarnelles strait. Its position was crucial in controlling the trade routes towards the Black Sea and, as the Trojan prince Paris mentions to the Spartan king Menelaus in Homer’s epic tale, the Iliad, the city controlled access to Indian silks and spices.

The probable location of the ancient city of Troy. Author provided

The Late Bronze Age was an era of powerful kingdoms and city states, centred around fortified walled palaces. Commerce was based on a complex gift exchange system between the different political states. The trade system was mainly controlled by the kings and evidence referring to private merchants is very rare. These kingdoms exchanged not only silks and spices, but also gold, silver, copper, grain, craftsmanship and slaves.

Bronze Age politics

The Hittites were an ancient Anatolian people whose empire was centred in north and central Anatolia from around 1600-1200BC. The Hittite empire, at its high point, included modern Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. The city of Troy was part of a small independent confederation named Assuwa that tried to resist the Hittite expansion but which eventually yielded and became a sort of vassal state to the Hittite empire.

Archaeologists working in Greece and Turkey have discovered a great deal of evidence of this complex political system, of the kind that might have inspired Homer’s epic. Political treaties discovered in the Hittite capital city, Hattusha dating back to the Late Bronze Age confirm the existence of a very powerful city not far from the Dardanelles strait called Wilusa (Greek Ilios/Troy) ruled by a king called Alaksandu (maybe the Trojan prince Paris – whose birth name, according to Homer, was Alexander). And archaeologists working in Troy have discovered skeletons, arrowheads and traces of destruction which point to us a violent end for Troy Level VII – as the late Bronze Age city has been designated by archaeologists (so far levels I to IX have been excavated).

At that stage, the political and economic system in the Mediterranean was disintegrating. A series of factors – states’ internal turmoil, mass refugee migrations, displacement of people, trade disruption and war – led to the collapse of the political system and to a new era. Because of new technology being adopted by the powers of the time, this has become known as the Iron Age.

The beginning of this new era witnessed destruction throughout the Mediterranean basin. Wealthy cities such as Troy as well as Mycenae and Tiryns in Greece were destroyed and abandoned. These events were so significant that the memory lasted for centuries. In Greek mythology, the tale of the fall of Troy was recorded in two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, traditionally attributed to Homer and written about 400 years after these events.

What history tells us

More than a century of archaeological and historical research in the eastern Mediterranean basin appears to confirm that there was a war on Troy when Homer says there was. His account centres around the affair between Paris and the Spartan queen Helen, that is said to have triggered the conflict.

Fatal attraction: Louis Hunter as Paris and Bella Dayne as Helen. Graham Bartholomew/BBC/Wild Mercury Productions

But contemporary sources from the Hittite archives in Hattusha tell a different story. Greek kingdoms conducted a number of military campaigns in western Turkey. Hittite records mention raids and mass kidnapping of people to be sold as slaves. There is a record of a peace treaty between Greeks and Hittites over the city of Troy. These records do not in themselves confirm the accuracy of Homer’s account – but they suggest that something important happened in the area at some point around 1200BC.

Outstanding value

The location of Troy, at the crossroad between the East and the West, is not only a centre of challenge (embodied by the Troyan war), but also of dialogue. Troy, in the past, was a bridge between cultures and its importance to the world has been confirmed by UNESCO. The site of Troy was enlisted in the World Cultural Heritage List in 1998 and it is considered a site of “Outstanding Universal Value”.

How the ruins of Troy look today. David Spender via FlickrCC BY

Excavations on the site of Troy started more than 150 years ago. The site was discovered in 1863 by Frank Calvert but it really became famous thanks to the excavations conducted by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1870. The work of Schliemann made the story come true and resulted in renewed interest in Troy and its history. Some 24 excavations spread over 150 years have now revealed many levels of occupation of the site – from the Early Bronze Age (Troy Level I, about 3500BC) to the Roman era (Troy IX, about 500AD).

An award-winning project “Troia Museum” will open this year as part of Turkey’s 2018 year of Troy. Turkey’s culture ministry has invited some of the actors from the 2004 epic Hollywood movie Troy to lend the event some star power.

We’ll probably never know if Helen’s beauty really did launch a thousand ships, but in decades to come Troy will continue to yield up its fascinating and romantic history and millions of people will thrill to retellings of Homer’s epic fables of the long-passed Age of Heroes.

Treat pigs with the respect they deserve

Pigs are among the planet’s most intelligent, social, and emotionally complicated species, capable of great joy, play, love, connection, suffering and pain YET they are subjected to savage systematic abuse by intensive factory farming methods. These include conditions in which pigs are placed in a crate made of iron bars that is the exact length and width of their bodies. This means they can do nothing for their entire lives but stand on a concrete floor, never turn around, never see any outdoors, Never see their piglets, never even see their tails and never move more than an inch!! These are the conditions which enable people to eat cheap meat and which contribute to the increasingly threatening rise of antibiotic resistance.   The picture on the left is factory farming Uk style which allows some small degree of interaction between the sow and her piglets. The picture on the right shows best practice free roam farming. Consult your conscience, support Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and where possible Please look for and buy meat which conforms to high animal wellbeing standards.

Article which shows the brutal, torturous conditions in which the pigs are bred in the USA

This article includes graphic images readers will find disturbing.

October 5 2017, 7:05 p.m. The Intercept

FBI AGENTS ARE devoting substantial resources to a multistate hunt for two baby piglets that the bureau believes are named Lucy and Ethel. The two piglets were removed over the summer from the Circle Four Farm in Utah by animal rights activists who had entered the Smithfield Foods-owned factory farm to film the brutal, torturous conditions in which the pigs are bred in order to be slaughtered.

While filming the conditions at the Smithfield facility, activists saw the two ailing baby piglets laying on the ground, visibly ill and near death, surrounded by the rotting corpses of dead piglets. “One was swollen and barely able to stand; the other had been trampled and was covered in blood,” said Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which filmed the facility and performed the rescue. Due to various illnesses, he said, the piglets were unable to eat or digest food and were thus a fraction of the normal weight for piglets their age.

Rather than leave the two piglets at Circle Four Farm to wait for an imminent and painful death, the DxE activists decided to rescue them. They carried them out of the pens where they had been suffering and took them to an animal sanctuary to be treated and nursed back to health.


DxE photograph depicting piglets huddled up against their mothers at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah. DxE says the piglets were sick or starving.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

This single Smithfield Foods farm breeds and then slaughters more than 1 million pigs each year. One of the odd aspects of animal mistreatment in the U.S. is that species regarded as more intelligent and emotionally complex — dogs, dolphins, cats, primates — generally receive more public concern and more legal protection. Yet pigs – among the planet’s most intelligent, social, and emotionally complicated species, capable of great joy, play, love, connection, suffering and pain, at least on a par with dogs — receive almost no protections, and are subject to savage systematic abuse by U.S. factory farms.

At Smithfield, like most industrial pig farms, the abuse and torture primarily comes not from rogue employees violating company procedures. Instead, the cruelty is inherent in the procedures themselves. One of the most heinous industry-wide practices is one that DxE activists encountered in abundance at Circle Four: gestational crating.

Where that technique is used, pigs are placed in a crate made of iron bars that is the exact length and width of their bodies, so they can do nothing for their entire lives but stand on a concrete floor, never turn around, never see any outdoors, never even see their tails, never move more than an inch. That was the condition in which the activists found the rotting piglet corpses and the two ailing piglets they rescued.


Piles of dead and rotting piglets are piled up behind a sow, who is wedged into a crate so tightly that she cannot move away from the mess at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Female pigs give birth in this condition. They are put in so-called farrowing crates when they give birth, and their piglets run underneath them to suckle and are often trampled to death. The sows are bred repeatedly this way until their fertility declines, at which point they are slaughtered and turned into meat.

The pigs are so desperate to get out of their crates that they often spend weeks trying to bite through the iron bars until their gums gush blood, bash their heads against the walls, and suffer a disease in which their organs end up mangled in the wrong places, from the sheer physical trauma of trying to escape from a tiny space or from acute anxiety (called “organ torsion”).

So cruel is the practice that in 2014, Canada effectively banned its usage, as the European Union had done two years earlier. Nine U.S. states, most of which host very few farms, have banned gestational crating (in 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with his eye on the GOP primary in farm-friendly Iowa, vetoed a bill that would have made his state the 10th).

But in the U.S. states where factory farms actually thrive, these devices continue to be widely used, which means a vast majority of pigs in the U.S. are subjected to them. The suffering, pain, and death these crates routinely cause were in ample evidence at Smithfield Foods, as accounts, photos, and videos from DxE demonstrate.

FBI raids animal sanctuaries

Under normal circumstances, a large industrial farming company such as Smithfield Foods would never notice that two sick piglets of the millions it breeds and then slaughters were missing. Nor would they care: A sick and dying piglet has no commercial value to them.

Yet the rescue of these two particular piglets has literally become a federal case — by all appearances, a matter of great importance to the Department of Justice. On the last day of August, a six-car armada of FBI agents in bulletproof vests, armed with search warrants, descended upon two small shelters for abandoned farm animals: Ching Farm Rescue in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado.

These sanctuaries have no connection to DxE or any other rescue groups. They simply serve as a shelter for sick, abandoned, or otherwise injured animals. Run by a small staff and a team of animal-loving volunteers, they are open to the public to teach about farm animals.

The attachments to the search warrants specified that the FBI agents could take “DNA samples (blood, hair follicles or ear clippings) to be seized from swine with the following characteristics: I. Pink/white coloring; II. Docked tails; III. Approximately 5 to 9 months in age; IV. Any swine with a hole in right ear.”

The FBI agents searched the premises of both shelters. They demanded DNA samples of two piglets they said were named Lucy and Ethel, in order to determine whether they were the two ailing piglets who had been rescued weeks earlier from Smithfield.

A representative of Luvin Arms, who insisted on anonymity due to fear of the pending criminal investigation, described the events. The FBI agents ordered staff and volunteers to stay away from the animals and then approached the piglets. To obtain the DNA samples, the state veterinarians accompanying the FBI used a snare to pressurize the piglet’s snout, thus immobilizing her in pain and fear, and then cut off close to two inches of the piglet’s ear.

The piglet’s pain was so severe, and her screams so piercing, that the sanctuary’s staff members screamed and cried. Even the FBI agents were so sufficiently disturbed by the resulting trauma, that they directed the veterinarians not to subject the second piglet to the procedure. The sanctuary representative recounted that the piglet who had part of her ear removed spent weeks depressed and scared, barely moving or eating, and still has not fully recovered. The FBI “receipt” given to the sanctuaries shows they took DNA samples “from swine.”

Several volunteers at one of the raided animal shelters said they were followed back to their homes by FBI agents, who dramatically questioned them in front of family members and neighbors. And there is even reason to believe that the bureau has been surveilling the activists’ private communications regarding the rescue of this piglet duo.

The FBI specified as part of its search that it was seeking DNA samples from piglets they said were named “Lucy” and “Ethel.” But those were not the names the activists used when publicly discussing the rescue of the two piglets. In their videos about the rescue, they called the pair “Lily” and “Lizzie.” Lucy and Ethel were code names the activists used internally, suggesting that agents were surveilling the activists’ communications — either electronically or through informants — in an effort to find the two piglets and build a criminal case against the group.

Subsequent events confirmed that this show of FBI force was designed to intimidate the sanctuaries, which played no role in the rescue. Weeks after the FBI’s execution of the two search warrants, Luvin Arms — in the midst of an interview with The Intercept — received a telephone call from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming the agency had received “a complaint” that the sanctuary lacked the legally required licenses for animal shelters that are open to the public. “We had never had an FBI visit or a USDA call about licenses, and now suddenly, within weeks, both happened,” the sanctuary representative said.


A piglet that was ill and close to death at Smithfield recovers as she is cared for after being rescued.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Retaliation for exposing cruel treatment

What has vested these two piglets with such importance to the FBI is that their rescue is now part of what has become an increasingly visible public campaign by DxE and other activists to highlight the barbaric suffering and abuse that animals endure on farms like Circle Four. Obviously, the FBI and Smithfield — the nation’s largest industrial farm corporation — don’t really care about the missing piglets they are searching for. What they care about is the efficacy of a political campaign intent on showing the public how animals are abused at factory farms, and they are determined to intimidate those responsible.

Deterring such campaigns and intimidating the activists behind them is, manifestly, the only goal here. What made this piglet rescue particularly intolerable was an article that appeared in the New York Times days after the rescue, which touted the use of virtual reality technology by animal rights activists to allow the public to immerse in the full experience of seeing what takes place in these companies’ farms. The article featured a photograph of the DxE activists rescuing the piglets from the Smithfield farm:

The Times article was published July 6. The search warrant against the sanctuaries was obtained the following month, in mid-August, and then executed on August 31. In the interim, the piglets had become stars of a clearly effective campaign against Smithfield Foods. 

In response to questions from The Intercept, Smithfield insisted that it does not abuse its animals. But, as is typical for factory farms, the company offered little more then generalized denials, accompanied by vague accusations that the videos and photos the activists took are somehow “distorted.”

After they rescued the two piglets, the DxE activists did not try to hide what they had done: They did the opposite. They used a tactic known as “open rescue,” the purpose of which is to publicly detail what has been done to help the public understand the true nature of the abuses.

The activists wrote about the rescue in social media postings that went viral, detailing the horrific conditions they witnessed at Smithfield and describing the suffering of the piglets. They posted videos to Facebook and YouTube that they filmed of the farm and the rescue as it happened, with other videos showing Lily and Lizzie being treated at the sanctuaries and growing into happy, playful, healthy adolescents.

Video: Direct Action Everywhere

Plainly, the “crime” of these activists that has galvanized the FBI is not the “theft” of two dying piglets; it is political activism and investigative journalism, which exposes the cruelty and abuse at the heart of this powerful industry.

In response to a few media reports on the FBI raids at the sanctuaries, bureau spokesperson Sandra Barker told the Washington Post: “I can say that we were at the two locations conducting court-authorized activity related to an ongoing investigation. Because it’s ongoing, I’m not able to provide any more details at this time.”

To an industry feeling endangered by growing public disgust over conditions at industrial farms — driven by scandals within the meat, pork, and poultry sectors — Lily and Lizzie are political and journalistic threats. Animals like them are vital for enabling animal rights activists to demonstrate to the public in a visceral, personalized way that this industry generates massive profit by monstrously and unnecessarily torturing living beings who are emotionally complex and experience great suffering.


Rescued piglets Lizzie and Lily.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Government power abused to intimidate and punish activists

The Justice Department’s grave attention to a case of two missing piglets reflects how vigilantly the U.S. government uses extreme measures to protect the agricultural industry — not from unjust economic loss, violent crime, or theft, but from political embarrassment and accurate reporting that damages the industry’s reputation.

A sweeping framework of draconian laws — designed to shield the industry from criticism and deter and punish its critics — has been enacted across the country by federal and state legislatures that are captive to the industry’s high-paid lobbyists. The most notorious of these measures are the “ag-gag” laws, which make publishing videos of farm conditions taken as part of undercover operations a felony, punishable by years in prison.

Though many courts, including most recently a federal court in Utah, have struck down these laws as an unconstitutional assault on speech and press freedoms, they continue to be used in numerous states to harass and, in some cases, prosecute animal rights activists. As the Times article notes, these ag-gag laws are one reason activists are forced to turn to virtual reality: to show what really happens inside industrial farms without running the risk of prosecution.


Many mother pigs had nipples that were torn into bloody shreds from feeding starving piglets.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Even more extreme and menacing is the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. As I described previously when reporting on the arrest of two young activists — who faced 10 years in prison for freeing minks from farm cages before the animals could be sliced to death and turned into luxury coats — nonviolent animal rights activists are often designated as “terrorists” under the AETA and are treated in the court system as such, even when no human beings are hurt and the economic loss is minimal:

As is typical for lobbyist and industry-supported bills, the AETA passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (its two prime Senate sponsors were James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) and then was signed into law by George W. Bush.

This “terrorism” law is violated if one “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise … for the purpose of damaging or interfering with” its operations. If you do that — and note that only “damage to property” but not to humans is required — then you are guilty of “domestic terrorism” under the law.

Prior to the 2006 enactment of the AETA, animal rights activism that damaged property was already illegal under a 1992 federal law, as well as various state laws, and subject to severe punishments. The primary purpose of the new 2006 law was to expand the scope of criminal offenses to include plainly protected forms of political protest, and to heighten the legal punishments and intensify social condemnation by literally labeling animal-rights activists as “domestic terrorists.”

The factory farm industry and its armies of lobbyists wield great influence in the halls of federal and state power, while animal rights activists wield virtually none. This imbalance has produced increasingly oppressive laws, accompanied by massive law enforcement resources devoted to punishing animal activists even for the most inconsequential nonviolent infractions — as the FBI search warrant and raid in search of “Lucy and Ethel” illustrates.

The U.S. government, of course, has always protected and served the interests of industry. Beginning when most of the nation was fed by small farms, federal agencies have been particularly protective of agricultural industry. That loyalty has only intensified as family farms have nearly disappeared, replaced by industrial factory farms where animals are viewed purely as commodities, instruments for profit, and treated with unconstrained cruelty.


Downed pigs languish in their own feces at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Lately, opposition is emerging from unusual places. Utah federal judge Robert J. Shelby, an Obama appointee who is a lifelong Republican, recently struck down the state’s ag-gag law on First Amendment grounds, noting in his ruling:

For as long as farmers have put food on American tables, the government has endeavored to support and protect the agricultural industry. … In short, governmental protection of the American agricultural industry is not new, and has taken a variety of forms over the last two hundred years. What is new, however, is the recent spate of state laws that have assumed an altogether novel approach: restricting speech related to agricultural operations.

As Shelby detailed, those ag-gag laws were not used until activists began having success in showing the public the true extent of cruelty that industrial farms impose on animals:

Nobody was ever charged under these [early ag-gag] laws, and for nearly two decades no new ag-gag legislation was introduced. That changed, however, after a series of high profile undercover investigations were made public in the mid to late 2000s.

To name just a few, in 2007, an undercover investigator at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company in California filmed workers forcing sick cows, many unable to walk, into the “kill box” by repeatedly shocking them with electric prods, jabbing them in the eye, prodding them with a forklift, and spraying water up their noses. A 2009 investigation at Hy-Line Hatchery in Iowa revealed hundreds of thousands of unwanted day-old male chicks being funneled by conveyor belt into a macerator to be ground up live.

That same year, undercover investigators at a Vermont slaughterhouse operated by Bushway Packing obtained similarly gruesome footage of days-old calves being kicked, dragged, and skinned alive. A few years later, an undercover investigator at E6 Cattle Company in Texas filmed workers beating cows on the head with hammers and pickaxes and leaving them to die. And later that year, at Sparboe Farms in Iowa, undercover investigators documented hens with gaping, untreated wounds laying eggs in cramped conditions among decaying corpses.

The publication of these and other undercover videos had devastating consequences for the agricultural facilities involved. The videos led to boycotts of facilities by McDonald’s, Target, Sam’s Club, and others. They led to bankruptcy and closure of facilities and criminal charges against employees and owners. They led to statewide ballot initiatives banning certain farming practices. And they led to the largest meat recall in United States history, a facility’s entire two years’ worth of production.

Over the next three years, sixteen states introduced ag-gag legislation.

In other words, both the legislative process and law enforcement agencies are being blatantly exploited — misused — to protect not the property rights but the reputational interests of this industry. Having the FBI — in the midst of real domestic terrorism threats, hurricane-ravaged communities, and intricate corporate criminality — send agents around the country to animal sanctuaries in search of DNA samples for two missing piglets may seem like overkill to the point of being laughable. But it is entirely unsurprising in the context of how law enforcement resources are used, and on whose behalf.


A piglet at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Smithfield Food’s defenses

It makes sense that Smithfield Foods would be petrified of the public learning of many of its practices. But in this particular case, they are specifically trying to hide the pure evils of gestational crates. This video, taken by an investigator with the Humane Society in 2012, shows the widespread but hideous reality of gestational crates at a Smithfield farm:

In response to the public controversy over this practice, generated by activists filming what was going on, Smithfield announced in 2012 that they would phase out gestational crating in 10 years — by 2022. They then claimed that by the end of 2017, they would transition completely to “group housing systems.” But as the DxE videos show, gestation crates are exactly what activists found in abundance when they visited Smithfield’s Circle Four.

Indeed, when Wayne Hsiung and DxE visited Circle Four over the summer, they saw no signs whatsoever of any construction or reform efforts to move away from gestational crates, Hsiung told the Intercept. As the videos show, Circle Four had thousands of pigs suffering in such crates. That was where the activists found the two piglets, close to death.

When Smithfield learned that The Intercept was reporting on these issues, a spokesperson emailed a statement and invited further questions. The statement claims that in response to DxE’s reporting, Smithfield “immediately launched an investigation and completed a third-party audit,” and “the audit results show no findings of animal mistreatment.”

This is a typical industry tactic: When they claim, as they almost always do, that their paid auditors discovered “no findings of animal mistreatment,” what they mean is that there was no evidence that their employees engaged in activities that corporate procedures explicitly prohibit (such as beating the animals or administering electric shock).

But what the audit does not do is ask whether the procedures themselves (such as gestational crating) are abusive and thus constitute “mistreatment.” Smithfield failed to provide a response to The Intercept’s follow-up questions about what it does and does not mean when their auditors claim no “mistreatment” was discovered; the company simply reiterated that “the animals observed on the farm by the audit team were in good condition, appeared comfortable, free of clinical disease, and showed no signs of fear or intimidation in the presence of people.” Simply review the DxE video above, and the featured photos showing what they found at Circle Four, to judge for yourself.


Cramped conditions lead to many pigs being trampled to death at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

In its statement, Smithfield also accused the activists who rescued the two piglets of “risk[ing] the life of the animals they stole and the lives of the animals living on our farms by trespassing” — an odd claim from a company that plans to slaughter all of those same animals. When asked to specify how the activists endangered the lives of the sick animals they rescued, Smithfield told The Intercept that “the video’s creators violated Smithfield’s strict biosecurity policy, which prevents the spread of disease on farms.” The statement added: “The piglets were not ‘extremely ill’ or ‘on the verge of death.’ These piglets, along with other animals living on the farm, are well cared for throughout their lifetime.”

But in response, Hsiung told the Intercept: “Our activists use better biosecurity protocols than the company’s own employees, as evidenced by the dead, rotting piglets on the farm. Allowing baby animals to rot to death is, in fact, a serious violation of biosecurity and food safety. Taking photographs of animal cruelty is not.”

Smithfield also accused the activists of manipulating their film, claiming that “the video appears to be highly edited and even staged in an attempt to manufacture an animal care issue where one does not exist.” But Smithfield did not respond to this question from The Intercept about the staging allegation: “How would these activists stage hundreds of pigs in gestation crates and dozens of piglets rotting to death — all in virtual reality, no less? It would take a Hollywood blockbuster budget and the most sophisticated team of computer-generated imagery for that. What’s Smithfield’s theory about what they fabricated in this video?”

The only specifics Smithfield offered was the assertion that “based on the review of animal care experts, it appears piglets were moved from one section of the barn to another to support the inaccuracies and falsehoods described in the video by its creators.”

But Hsiung said: “The video speaks for itself. I don’t know how we can fake a rotting piglet.” Regarding the accusation that they moved piglets, he added: “I imagine what they are seeing is piglets in the wrong sort of pen, gestation rather than farrowing. But that is a testament to their own failed animal care practices. We were shocked and horrified, as well, to see piglets born and housed in inappropriate conditions that left them exposed to trauma.”

In sum, the industry has long responded to these videos — which they tried in the first instance to use their lobbying power to criminalize — by insisting that the videos are distorted. Yet they never specify what these supposed distortions are. Now that activists are using virtual reality technology, which allows the viewer to see everything the activists see, such claims are even more untenable than they were before.