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Animal Rights Activists on Winning Streak With 'Open Rescues'

In a type of activism once considered almost hopeless, animal rights activists have been winning more often as they confront agricultural practices and the legal system over the inhumane treatment of animals, Vox reports. In the latest victory for the so-called open rescue movement, a California jury acquitted two women who stole sick, slaughter-bound chickens from Foster Farms, one of the largest poultry companies in the U.S. Prosecutors called it misdemeanor theft, but the defendants, members of the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), called it a rescue and refused multiple plea offers in order to draw attention to their tactics and to the problem itself. The acquittal “is a statement in defense not just of these two women’s right to rescue animals, but the right of every living being to be protected from corporate abuse,” said a defense attorney, Wayne Hsiung, a co-founder of DxE who has been a defendant in two other rescue trials, outside the courthouse in Merced, Calif. “It should be a clarion call for animal-abusing corporations that if you are going to hurt animals, people will intervene and stop you, and they will be defended by our community and by American citizens.”

The chickens’ rescue followed a 2021 hidden-camera investigation (conducted by a separate DxE activist) at the same slaughterhouse, which drew attention to the appalling cruelty of poultry slaughter. When the birds — whom the activists named Ethan and Jax — were removed from the slaughter truck by the defendants, they were both severely ill and struggled to stand. Ethan died four days after the rescue, while Jax recovered after intensive veterinary care and now lives on a farm sanctuary. The defense argued that they weren’t breaking the law because Ethan and Jax were in such terrible shape when they arrived at the slaughterhouse that they were unfit for the food supply, making them worthless to Foster Farms. Since its founding a decade ago, DxE, a grassroots animal rights group, has been testing out this strategy, in which activists walk into factory farms and slaughterhouses and simply remove animals suffering there. Last October, a Utah jury acquitted DxE activists who "rescued" two dying piglets from Smithfield Foods, America's top pork producer. More of the group's cases are going to trial, partial vindication of a belief that if courts refuse to recognize animals themselves as having standing in court, then their human stand-ins can brave the legal system on their behalf. The strategy is gaining attention from legal experts — a notable change from the last decade-plus, when animal advocates shied away from such risky tactics, shaken by high-profile criminal convictions of activists in the 2000s. Last fall, the University of Denver started the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project, a law clinic devoted to representing activists facing prosecution. One of its lawyers served on the defense team in this month's California trial.


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