The timing couldn’t have been better.
This past Friday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had just updated its website to include the latest confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Two of those cases were in Sonoma County, California. One involved a commercial laying hen operation and the other was in a commercial duck breeding operation.
Between the two flocks, more than a quarter of a million birds had to be euthanized in order to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Then, within a half hour, I noticed in my inbox an email from a public relations agency on behalf of animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). On the day prior to the sending of that email, DxE co-founder Wayne Hsiung had been sentenced to 90 days in jail followed by two years of probation for crimes he was convicted of in early November. Hsiung was found guilty on one count of felony conspiracy and two counts of misdemeanor trespass.
But, of course, DxE believes this sentence it totally unfair because, in the organization’s collective mind, Hsiung was merely taking part in “nonviolent animal rescues at two factory farms.”
And, DxE also revealed where it was that the crimes for which he was convicted and sentenced took place. The farms were Sunrise Farms, a major egg producer, and Reichardt, California’s largest duck farm. And both locations, as DxE so kindly pointed out, are both in Sonoma County.
Since APHIS does not directly identify the farms that are affected by HPAI, we cannot be certain that these were the same facilities.
Also, I’m not a virologist nor am I a veterinarian, so I’m not going to say these birds contracted HPAI because DxE members brought the virus onto the farm. But we also cannot rule it out.
For a long time, we have heard that trespassing animal rights activists can also endanger animals. And one way they can do so is by not following biosecurity protocols when entering the farm.
I think it is fair to suspect that Hsiung did not change his clothes or shoes, take a foot bath, or do anything in regard to preventing exposure to disease.
With wild birds spreading the virus, it could be purely coincidence that birds in a geographical area often monitored and targeted by activists who don’t understand animal production best practices got infected with HPAI.
But coincidence or not, it does create food for thought as to why people should not trespass on farms where animals are raised, no matter how well-intentioned they believe they are being.
DxE said Hsiung is appealing the charges, and I do hope that the judge in the case takes biosecurity concerns into account during the decision-making process.