Slaughter industry remains haunted by ghosts of vegan campaigns past
BURLINGTON, Ontario––Winning the May 4, 2017 acquittal of Toronto Pig Save cofounder Anita Krajnc on charges of criminal mischief originating from giving bottled water to pigs through the slats on a livestock truck, defense attorney Gary Grill likened her actions and prosecution to those of human rights activists Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Susan B. Anthony.
The name game
Justice David Harris “chastised the defense team” for those comparisons, and for comparing Krajnc to “those who helped Jews during the Holocaust,” reported Guardian Toronto correspondent Ashifa Kassam.
Said Harris, “I fear that examples were cited because, although they serve no purpose in my deciding this case, it will look good in the social media posts.”
Krajnc herself had earlier invoked the names of Jesus, the 19th century Russian novelist and vegetarian commune founder Leo Tolstoy, and Pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984), who spent eight years in concentration camps after speaking out against Naziism.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals founder Ingrid Newkirk addressed a rally outside the Burlington, Ontario courthouse where Krajnc went to trial. The musician Moby made headlines by offering to pay the fine, if Krajnc was convicted and fined.
Phipps & Hahnheuser
But the activist names of greatest concern to the livestock industry appear to have been those of Jill Phipps and Ralph Hahnheuser.
Neither Phipps nor Hahnheuser appear to have been mentioned by name, either in the courtroom during the Kranjc case or in the voluminous mass media coverage of the outcome.
Yet both prosecution testimony and agribusiness representatives’ comments to media made clear that the examples set by Phipps and Hahnheuser loom large in agribusiness’ collective memory.
Who was Jill Phipps?
Phipps, 31, was crushed by a livestock truck during a February 1995 protest at Baginton airport, near Coventry, England, against live exports of calves and lambs to vealers in the Netherlands and Belgium.
The British live export industry peaked during the months after Phipps’ death, but was suspended by the European Union after the 1996 discovery that “mad cow disease,” then endemic in Britain and believed to have evolved from the sheep disease scrapie, could be transmitted to humans.
After live exports resumed, Phipps’ example as a martyr helped to rally revived protests. In 1995, the year of Phipps’ death, the U.K. shipped about 2.5 million live animals per year to the continent, but after the “mad cow disease” episode and another interruption followeing a February 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, live exports of hooved animals fell to an average of about 65,000 per year.
What remains of the once thriving live export industry may collapse entirely with the impending “Brexit” departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
Who was Ralph Hahnheuser?
Hahnheuser, then 42, was on May 6, 2005 acquitted after a county court jury trial in Geelong, Australia, of a charge of “contaminating feed to cause economic loss,” but in 2008 was ordered by the Australian federal court to pay $72,873 Australian dollars to the livestock export company Samax.
Hahnheuser admitted adding shredded pork to the water and feed given to sheep at a feedlot in Portland, South Australia, on November 19, 2003.
Indeed, making no secret of it, Hahnheuser announced the deed to news media immediately afterward.
But Hahnheuser pleaded innocent by reason of having contaminated the water to prevent cruelty to the sheep, who were to have been shipped to Kuwait the next day, to be sold for hallal slaughter at Ramadan.
Islamic dietary law forbids either eating pork or having any contact with it. Hahnheuser hoped that the sheep would not be exported if they were known to have possibly consumed pork. The shipment of about 70,000 sheep was delayed for two weeks. Representatives of two sheep exporting firms estimated that the action cost them $1.3 million Australian dollars.
Who is Anita Krajnc?
Haunted by Phipps’ impact, agribusiness witnesses and spokespersons sought to portray Krajnc as another Hahnheuser, whose actions might have contaminated pork products in a dangerous manner, or at least in a manner inhibiting sales.
Krajnc, 49, helped to form Toronto Pig Save in 2010. Krajnc brought to the cause of pigs a background including having been an aide to former Canadian environment minister Charles Caccia (1930-2008, in Parliament 1968-2004), having earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Toronto, and having taught at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Toronto Pig Save
Toronto Pig Save may have first come to mass media notice through an October 2011 Psychology Today blog by ethologist Mark Bekoff.
“This wonderful grassroots organization is made up of compassionate people who are devoted to saving pigs from being tortured and slaughtered for food,” wrote Bekoff. “They focus on Quality Meat Packers, a slaughterhouse located near downtown Toronto, the horrific and pungent stench of which fills the local neighborhood.”
Initially Toronto Pig Save appears to have held conventional vigils at an intersection near the slaughterhouse, with picket signs, banners, and leaflets to draw the attention of other vehicle drivers to the truckloads of doomed pigs.
By July 2013, however, when a video of Toronto Pig Save members watering pigs went viral on Facebook, the protests had evolved into well-practiced watering sessions. As each truck stopped for a traffic light before making the turn to the slaughterhouse a block away, the Toronto Pig Save team converged to squirt bottled water into thirsty pigs’ mouths and over their backs for as long as possible before the trucks began to move again.
Most of the truck drivers appeared to cooperate with the protesters, to the extent that they could while still doing their jobs.
Toronto Pig Save took the same approach to demonstrating outside other pig slaughterhouses in the greater Toronto area.
On June 22, 2015, outside the Fearman’s Pork Inc. slaughter house in Burlington, a Toronto suburb, truck driver Jeffrey Veldjesgraaf objected.
Hauling a load of pigs valued at about $45,000 for Oxford County, Ontario farmer Eric Van Boekel, Veldjesgraaf “got out of the truck and began arguing with” Krajnc and another woman,” according to a transcription of a videotape of the incident made by another nearby activist.
“Jesus said, ‘If they’re thirsty, give them water,’” said Krannc, citing Proverbs 25:21, actually attributed to Solomon, who lived more than 900 years before Jesus.
“You dumb frickin” broad!”
“These are not humans, you dumb frickin’ broad,” responded Veldjesgraaf.
“Have some compassion, have some compassion!” Krajnc yelled.
“Let’s call the cops,” the driver said, holding his phone.
“Call Jesus,” Krajnc said, apparently unaware that Jesus in Matthew 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-14 reportedly cast a group of demons exorcised from a “wild man” into a herd of 2,000 pigs, at the demons’ request, and sent the pigs running over a cliff to drown.
“Yeah, no. What do we do, call 911? What do you got in that water?” Veldjesgraaf asked.
“Water,” Krajnc said.
“No, no, how do I know?” Veldjesgraaf responded.
“Trust me,” Krajnc said.
“Don’t put it in there again,” Veldjesgraaf ordered.
“If this pig is thirsty, they’ll have water,” said Krajnc.
“You do it again and I’ll slap it out of your hands,” Veldjesgraaf warned.
“Go ahead, if you want an assault charge, if you want to have assault charges, go ahead! Film this, film this, film this!” Krajnc yelled.
Veldjesgraaf drove on, delivering the pigs to Fearman’s Pork Inc. for slaughter without further incident.
But farmer Van Boekel on June 23, 2015 filed a complaint against Krajnc, which on September 9, 2015 became a charge of criminal mischief, carrying a potential penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
The Ontario crown prosecutor’s office later reduced the charge to a summary violation carrying a maximum penalty of six months in prison and/or a fine of $5,000 Canadian dollars (worth about $3,600 in U.S. dollars.)
“If they were dogs, I would be a hero”
“I’m on trial for giving water to thirsty pigs. If they were dogs, I would be a hero,” Krajnc told media.
But Veldjesgraaf and other agribusiness witnesses made clear that for them, the issue was not about water. And neither was the issue just water for Krajnc, whose purpose in forming Toronto Pig Save was to discourage people from eating pigs, and for whom her trial was an opportunity to try the whole pork industry in a public forum.
“On the surface, it’s about me helping some pigs who were thirsty and giving them water, and that’s important,” Krajnc told CBC News reporter Samantha Graggs. “But there’s a dual purpose. We’re trying to raise awareness about the plight of all animals and the planet and people’s health.”
“Messing with the food supply”
Veldjesgraaf acknowledged in pretrial testimony that Krajnc and other animal rights activists had often offered water to pigs he was hauling, and that Fearman’s Pork Inc. had never turned away a load of pigs because they were watered by protesters.
Under cross-examination Veldjesgraaf explained that pigs in transit to slaughter are watered before loading and after unloading, but not aboard the trucks, meaning that toward the end of the route on a hot day, the pigs would normally want water.
Charged Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario president Clarence Nywening in a post-trial CBC interview, “Krajnc was messing with the food supply. What was at stake was our family farms and producing safe quality food. This is putting a big jeopardy on our livelihood now.”
The Nywening statement indicatively mixed concerns.
The notion that agribusiness in general and pig producers in particular might have been most worried about Krajnc “messing with the food supply,” in a manner potentially interfering with “producing safe quality food,” begged the unasked question “What about ractopamine?”
A beta-agonist synthetic hormone, ractopamine is fed legally and almost universally to pigs in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico to cause them to gain weight more rapidly just before slaughter.
Yet ractopamine is banned in the European Union, China, Russia, and Taiwan, because it might have potentially deadly effects if ingested by humans.
Almost certainly the use of ractopamine costs Canadian pig producers far more money in lost export sales than anything Krajnc could have added to the small amounts of water she and other Toronto Pig Save members were able to squirt toward pigs through the slats of a truck.
Of much greater concern to Nywening et al appears to have been the effect Krajnc and Toronto Pig Save were––and are––having on consumer awareness of the suffering that goes into raising and hauling pigs for slaughter.
In rendering his verdict, exonerating Krajnc, Justice Harris tried to stay closely focused on the legal issues. Harris made clear that he was not favorably impressed by a series of activist witnesses, including U.S. veterinarian Armaiti May, U.S. neuroscientist Lori Marino, vegan researcher David Jenkins, and final witness Tony Weis, a Western University geography professor who testified about the environmental impact of meat consumption.
“Alleged offense is not upsetting the driver”
Neither was Harris swayed by crown prosecutor Harutyun Apel’s argument that Krajnc had given the pigs an “unknown substance.”
Asked Apel, ““Why does the farmer have to take the chance or the risk that it may not be water?”
Harris responded that the prosecution had presented no evidence that Krajnc had given the pigs anything but water, reminding Apel that “The alleged offense is not upsetting the driver or the owner.”
Indirectly raising the specter of Phipps, Van Boekel testified that he sought the charge against Krajnc in part because he feared that activists would be injured while reaching into the livestock truck.
Harris was not having any of that argument, either.
“Pigs are not persons”
Ruled Harris, “By law in Canada, pigs are not persons. They are property. Ms. Krajnc and like-minded individuals may believe otherwise and they are fully entitled to that belief. That does not, however, make it so.
“Did Ms Krajnc obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of the property?” Harris asked. “My simple answer to this question is: no. She did not. I find that the Crown has failed to prove that Ms. Krajnc obstructed, interrupted or interfered with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property.”
“Protesters had given water to pigs before,” Harris reminded the courtroom. “The driver was aware of this. The slaughterhouse was aware of this. Despite this, the slaughterhouse had never refused to accept a load of pigs for that reason.”
Responded Bruce Kelly of Farm & Food Care Ontario, an agribusiness front group, “Actions by Krajnc and activists like her should not be condoned by the courts as they threaten acceptable and legal farming practices and are a threat to food safety.”
Kelly had contended all along that the Krajnc case should have been prosecuted as “a misdemeanor case about product tampering.”
Krajnc was not fully satisfied with Harris’ verdict either.
“Compassion is not a crime”
“I’m relieved that the judge recognizes that compassion is not a crime, that compassion should never be illegal,” Krajnc told the Guardian. “But he did say that pigs under Canadian law are considered property, not persons. So I think we have a lot of work to do still.”
“Seven years ago,” recalled Ann Hui of the Toronto Globe & Mail, “Anita Krajnc could be found standing alone outside Toronto-area abattoirs, holding one-woman protests against the meat industry. She would regularly send out invitations to members of the media and public to attend, but more often than not, her invitations went ignored.”
“Global face of animal activism”
Today, Hui asessed, Krajnc “finds herself the global face of animal activism, at the center of one of the biggest animal-law cases in Canadian history.”
PETA founder Newkirk credited Krajnc with helping to bring “thousands” of new people to sign a pledge of veganism.
Krajnc and Toronto Pig Save have inspired emulators worldwide––and similar attempted prosecutions brought by agribusiness, but with strikingly different results.
Recalled Craggs of CBC News, “Activist Ciara Birley, 22, a member of Virginia’s Smithfield Pig Save, was charged in relation to doing the same thing as Anita Krajnc—giving water to pigs as part of a vigil near a slaughterhouse. In October 2016, Birley approached a truck outside Smithfield Foods. Police handcuffed her, the group’s video shows. She was charged with impeding traffic.But a judge [in December 2016] dismissed Birley’s case on first appearance.”
Krajnc, meanwhile, for a few weeks appeared likely to have the opportunity to present a courtroom encore––if the judge assigned to the case allowed it.
The potential encore case originated when on October 5, 2016 a tractor-trailer rig hauling 180 pigs to slaughter overturned near Fearman’s Pork Inc.
Forty-two pigs were killed. Several others escaped and ran loose for a while in the neighborhood. Eventually, though, all of the surviving pigs were corralled and marched to slaughter.
Krajnc, who was at the scene with other Toronto Pig Save demonstrators, was charged with obstructing police and breach of recognizance for allegedly repeatedly crossing a crime scene tape to videotape the proceedings.
The charges against Krajnc were stayed, however, on May 25, 2017.
The 25-year-old truck driver was charged with careless driving.
Mary Finelli says
Characteristically, your article raises some interesting points. Industry should have learned its lesson from the Howard Lyman/Oprah Winfrey trial: the bad press it generates against itself with such trials is invaluable for animal advocates and the animals for whom they advocate. Industry just can’t get past the “might makes right” mentality.
The comparison of Anita Krajnc to those who altruistically helped human victims is an apt one.
Jamaka Petzak says
It IS all about compassion and kindness, which should be the most important values taught to us all and those most cherished by us all. Most, if not all, major religious ideologies teach some variant of what the Christians call the “golden rule” (if few practice it).