Activists Charged under Utah’s “Ag-Gag” Law Plead Not Guilty
Four California activists are pleading not guilty to charges that they violated Utah’s controversial ag-gag law when they took pictures of a pig farm in Milford. They may be the first defendants prosecuted under the law.
The activists with the group Farm Animal Rights Movement were charged in Iron County Justice Court with criminal trespassing and interference with an agricultural operation - class B misdemeanors. Professional photographer Sarah Jane Hardt is one of the defendants. She says she did take photos and video at Circle Four pig farms in September last year, but she contends that she did so from public land. Hardt says she hopes the case goes to trial.
“We’d like to take this opportunity to talk about it and for ag-gag to be something that is commonplace in conversation and for people to know about it, because whether you eat meat or not, it’s a violation of your first amendment,” Hardt says.
The California attorney representing all four defendants is T. Matthew Phillips. He says Utah’s ag-gag law is unconstitutional because it targets would-be whistleblowers and benefits only special interests.
“These ag-gag laws demonstrate the stranglehold that corporations have on our lawmakers, because lawmakers are not making laws for the good people of Utah; they’re only making laws for the large impersonal corporations that are owned by gigantic multinationals overseas,” Phillips says.
The Iron County District Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did a spokesperson for Circle Four Farms. According to its website, the company houses 74,000 pigs and employs 450 people. Its parent company Smithfield Foods was acquired by a Chinese company in 2013.