The pig whisperer: the Dutch farmer who wants to end factory farming

Kees Scheepens and his two favourite pigs: Borough, left, and Oma.
Kees Scheepens and his two favourite pigs: Borough, left, and Oma. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

A unique ‘pig toilet’ and a diet of organic leftovers are part of former vet Kees Scheepens’ plans to put animal welfare and sustainability first
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About this contentSenay BoztasMon 7 Jun 2021 01.30 EDT

“Oma, hoi! Hier! Hallooo,” Dr Kees Scheepens, a Dutch farmer known as the “pig whisperer”, is calling his two oldest pigs for some apricot snacks.

Oma or “granny”, a seven-year-old sow, lives with a Berkshire boar called Borough, who’s nine, off a quiet lane in the town of Oirschot, in the south of the Netherlands, on a farm called Hemelrijken – Dutch for “the realms of heaven”.

Scheepens, 61, says he is the 19th generation of farmers in his family, and that after years practising as a vet, he is driven by an unusual set of ambitions: “emancipating” farm animals, putting animal welfare first, and eating far less, far happier meat.

Kees Scheepens feeds pigs outside at his farm in Oirschot, the Netherlands.
Kees Scheepens feeds pigs with leftovers from the local organic supermarket. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

“Borough and Oma are here to stay,” he says, squelching to his farthest field, where the two 400kg-plus animals squeeze into their shed. “I’ve given them a name and when you give a name to a pig, I cannot butcher it any more. I had three boars, David, Att and Borough. David and Att are already in heaven but ‘Bro’ is still here.”Advertisement‘Truly an emergency’: how drought returned to California – and what lies aheadClimate crisis to shrink G7 economies twice as much as Covid-19, says researchIdaho’s Republicans in political civil war as state lurches further rightUS reputation as leading global power harmed by Covid response, poll shows – liveFDA approves first new Alzheimer’s drug in almost 20 yearsBoko Haram leader killed on  direct orders of Islamic StateClimate crisis to shrink G7economies twice as much asCovid‑19, says research crisis to shrink G7 economies twice as much as Covid-19, says research

As he walks around feeding and talking a little French to his 28 sows (according to Scheepens, “neuf”, is their grunt of confirmation, and “huithuit” is them asking for more) the place seems idyllic. The pigs are fed on produce being thrown away by organic supermarket Ekoplaza: boxes of white cabbages, slightly wilted beans, veggie-balls, 500kg of Canadian lentils, overripe mangoes from Burkina Faso, hundreds of tubs of peach mango soy yoghurt, and boxes of apricots. A couple of cats and dogs wander around. Meanwhile, in a forested nature reserve area, 45 Angus cows have just calved.

Scheepens primarily raises a breed he calls the “Duke of Berkshire”, a cross of the hairy Berkshire pig and white sow, named with a nod to his years working in England. Although he raises them for meat, he is passionate about animal welfare. “Am I rich in money? No, but I’m primarily motivated by emancipating farm animals.”

He started his pig project almost a decade ago, aiming to help bring open-air farming back to the muddy Netherlands, and pioneer a new type of barn farming.

‘I would say pigs are the most hygienic animals we have on the farm,’ says Kees Scheepens, seen here explaining the pig toilet, which encourages pigs to separate urine and poo in order to reduce the production of ammoniac.
‘Pigs are the most hygienic animals we have on the farm,’ says Scheepens, seen here explaining his system for encouraging pigs to separate their urine and poo to reduce ammonia production. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

“Factory farming of pigs in the Netherlands is a dead end,” he says. “We now know that a pig is not a thing: it is a sentient being with a high level of intelligence, comparable with the intelligence of a child. What I see worldwide is that many pig farmers don’t know any more what pigs are about. They just don’t have the skills to know what’s right and what’s wrong.”

What’s wrong, he believes, is factory farming where cannibalistic “vices” such as tail biting replace normal pig behaviour such as rooting around for food. This leads to widespread “tail docking” in many parts of Europe to stop animals eating each other’s tails, even though the practice is banned.

Instead, Scheepens argues, pigs need a more natural environment, to be able to root around in beds of straw or wood chips and have outdoor access, with a special toilet replacing slatted floors (where urine and faeces fall through and mix).

“I would say pigs are the most hygienic animals we have on the farm,” he says. “They will not poo or pee in their nest. Pooing always goes well: their noses are so sensitive, they recognise the smell.”

Meat has become a throwaway product, where the true value is not seen any more

Kees Scheepens

To encourage them to urinate separately, he has created a reward system: a machine delivering lemon sour candies when their urine goes through a special floor membrane in an outside “toilet” area.

Why is peeing important for sustainable farming? “When I reward them for correct urinating, there will not be the contact between a nitrogen compound found in urine and an enzyme in the manure: that creates ammonia, and that’s one of the main factors in the [excess] nitrogen discussions [taking place] in the Netherlands.”

Pigs eat treats they receive after using a toilet. The pigs are encouraged to urinate on the dark patch in the left-hand corner of the pen, where one of them is standing.
A pig eats a treat after urinating in the correct place. The pigs are encouraged to urinate on the dark patch in the corner of the pen. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian


Scheepens believes animal cruelty at abattoirs and intensive farms cannot last; his own turning point came after the swine flu epidemic of 1997–98, when he was forced to euthanise about 10,000 newborn piglets.

“At the time I just did my job. But later on, I developed very serious epileptic seizures. I said to myself: ‘You have euthanised healthy pigs. As a vet you are trained to cure animals that are sick or to keep animals healthy, not to butcher piglets.’”

Returning from a period working in England, during which he was diagnosed with epilepsy, he decided he wanted to be a farmer like his forebears. “I think when you want to work with animals and have them play a role in agriculture, it has to be sustainable,” he says.

A poster explains how the ‘pig toilet’ works.
A poster explaining how the ‘pig toilet’ works by preventing contact between the nitrogen compound found in urine and the enzyme urea in the manure. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

“Meat has become a throwaway product, where the true value is not seen any more. Wouldn’t it be nice if farmers were offered an income with the same farm and half of the animals? Sustainability can only be there in my perception when you take care of animal welfare first.”

The Netherlands is a densely populated country, and the land is often poorly drained. So as well as outdoor farming, Scheepens wants to revolutionise animal barns so smells and emissions are reduced, and pigs can laze, eat, root and wallow as nature intended.

Pigs at Kees Scheepens’ farm. ‘We now know that a pig is not a thing. It is a sentient being with intelligence,’ he says.
Happy pigs at Kees Scheepens’ farm. ‘We now know that a pig is not a thing but a sentient being with a high level of intelligence,’ he says. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian


“The last three to four generations have started using fertilisers, pesticides and going from big, bigger to biggest,” he says. “That was the societal trend in agriculture, but I think we have to become smartest. I don’t want to have a grandchild saying to me: ‘you broke that tradition of farming because you destroyed the Earth.’”

He thinks there’s no need for pig farming to stink: “I always say to farmers, you can just ignore what we gained in knowledge on animal welfare because your barn needs to be paid off. But the mental and emotional reasons to change are huge. In every farmer, there’s also a heart.”

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How Flu’s Mutations Threaten Birds, Pigs and Humans

Jason Gale Jun 02 2021, 12:10 PM Jun 02 2021, 4:30 PM (Bloomberg) — New strains of influenza are constantly emerging. Although the virus is associated with winter flu epidemics in people, wild migratory birds are its main target — and are responsible for much of its global distribution. From them it may jump into mammals, especially pigs, wh

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Orphaned Kitten Becomes Best Friend With Rescue Piglet And It’s Totally Adorable


by Carolyn Mullet027881×280&!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=zhVNLtpWn8&p=https%3A//

Meet Laura, the rescue piglet and his best friend Marina, the orphaned kitten with special needs. The duo met each other for the first time at the Santuario Igualdad Interespecie, an interspecies equality sanctuary for farm animals in Santiago, Chile.×197&×280&correlator=1757291082696&frm=20&pv=1&ga_vid=601745106.1618765528&ga_sid=1619969238&ga_hid=668232209&ga_fc=0&rplot=4&u_tz=-420&u_his=1&u_java=0&u_h=640&u_w=1139&u_ah=607&u_aw=1139&u_cd=24&u_nplug=3&u_nmime=4&adx=15&ady=1646&biw=1123&bih=538&scr_x=0&scr_y=0&eid=21066429&oid=3&pvsid=3612276310656919&pem=63&eae=0&fc=896&brdim=0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C1139%2C0%2C1139%2C607%2C1139%2C537&vis=1&rsz=%7C%7Cebr%7C&abl=CS&pfx=0&fu=128&bc=31&ifi=2&uci=a!2&btvi=2&fsb=1&xpc=Zf8cCJE0Hc&p=https%3A//

Marina was abandoned on the street by her mother because of being sick and having pus-filled eyes. Thankfully, a kind person picked her up and took her to the Chilean sanctuary, saving her life.×250&×280%2C787x197%2C300x600%2C250x250%2C0x0&nras=1&correlator=1757291082696&frm=20&pv=1&ga_vid=601745106.1618765528&ga_sid=1619969238&ga_hid=668232209&ga_fc=0&u_tz=-420&u_his=1&u_java=0&u_h=640&u_w=1139&u_ah=607&u_aw=1139&u_cd=24&u_nplug=3&u_nmime=4&adx=259&ady=2733&biw=1123&bih=538&scr_x=0&scr_y=600&eid=21066429&oid=3&pvsid=3612276310656919&pem=63&eae=0&fc=896&brdim=0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C1139%2C0%2C1139%2C607%2C1139%2C537&vis=1&rsz=%7C%7CeEbr%7C&abl=CS&pfx=0&fu=0&bc=31&ifi=3&uci=a!3&btvi=3&fsb=1&xpc=x0meBtqu04&p=https%3A//

The rescuers tried everything they could to save her, so she quickly got her energy back. The little kitten even started playing with the caretakers and animals at the sanctuary. At that time, Marina and Laura found each other, and now they become best friends.

Laura was born so that she could be slaughtered, but luckily, activists rescued her from the meat industry. When she arrived at the sanctuary, she was trembling with fear. However, the tiny kitten helped her relax and calm down.×197&×280%2C787x197%2C300x600%2C250x250%2C0x0%2C300x250%2C1123x538&nras=2&correlator=1757291082696&frm=20&pv=1&ga_vid=601745106.1618765528&ga_sid=1619969238&ga_hid=668232209&ga_fc=0&rplot=4&u_tz=-420&u_his=1&u_java=0&u_h=640&u_w=1139&u_ah=607&u_aw=1139&u_cd=24&u_nplug=3&u_nmime=4&adx=15&ady=3755&biw=1123&bih=538&scr_x=0&scr_y=1800&eid=21066429&oid=3&psts=AGkb-H-jRjvrGmZ_ieC2phQ9eZ6CGSs-uN-erbh1i63fm-UnKrIdAH8_jX7qWmIFJOru7keY8DFfXEUN5zI7%2CAGkb-H9bAYoXrHV1vbNnrYjMvaEA-7l7q-J7YOwozjS4bh41XM-VPTBHxi8PPGiifOaDn3K7K-l5e45gYg%2CAGkb-H8XOf9_2_bcQ1ogpRNB6WhN6SXbx4Ueffpv9K4bycSle-a-L_b-ziLvF3GIo6XnwQDheH9DVUUZVcZ5Ew%2CAGkb-H-1ol6tGXiSC4aZEkrU4_–ObHyMMIQblKQUB0KphKDXPzljIgvIKktPMIc9Ta2NsU7FoVGsGms_A&pvsid=3612276310656919&pem=63&eae=0&fc=896&brdim=0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C1139%2C0%2C1139%2C607%2C1139%2C537&vis=1&rsz=%7C%7Cebr%7C&abl=CS&pfx=0&fu=128&bc=31&jar=2021-05-02-01&ifi=4&uci=a!4&btvi=4&fsb=1&xpc=CgKOuFFyIB&p=https%3A//

They found comfort in each other, and share the most unlikely and beautiful of friendships. They play, cuddle, nap together and give each other a lot of hugs and kisses. Even when they’re not cuddling, they stay close together, like best forever friends should. Whenever Laura sleeps in, Marina acts as her bestie alarm clock. And Laura always returns the favor.×280&×280%2C787x197%2C300x600%2C250x250%2C0x0%2C300x250%2C1123x538%2C787x197&nras=2&correlator=1757291082696&frm=20&pv=1&ga_vid=601745106.1618765528&ga_sid=1619969238&ga_hid=668232209&ga_fc=0&u_tz=-420&u_his=1&u_java=0&u_h=640&u_w=1139&u_ah=607&u_aw=1139&u_cd=24&u_nplug=3&u_nmime=4&adx=15&ady=5181&biw=1123&bih=538&scr_x=0&scr_y=3100&eid=21066429&oid=3&psts=AGkb-H-jRjvrGmZ_ieC2phQ9eZ6CGSs-uN-erbh1i63fm-UnKrIdAH8_jX7qWmIFJOru7keY8DFfXEUN5zI7%2CAGkb-H9bAYoXrHV1vbNnrYjMvaEA-7l7q-J7YOwozjS4bh41XM-VPTBHxi8PPGiifOaDn3K7K-l5e45gYg%2CAGkb-H8XOf9_2_bcQ1ogpRNB6WhN6SXbx4Ueffpv9K4bycSle-a-L_b-ziLvF3GIo6XnwQDheH9DVUUZVcZ5Ew%2CAGkb-H-1ol6tGXiSC4aZEkrU4_–ObHyMMIQblKQUB0KphKDXPzljIgvIKktPMIc9Ta2NsU7FoVGsGms_A%2CAGkb-H9Eufpnugwp7ZruRJWMue3_Xlcow7ywaOc32jHQBPtpEkI1E1jCyGJabrXXm8G-0dJ5TJehUjDKOxLF&pvsid=3612276310656919&pem=63&eae=0&fc=896&brdim=0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C1139%2C0%2C1139%2C607%2C1139%2C537&vis=1&rsz=%7C%7CEebr%7C&abl=CS&pfx=0&fu=128&bc=31&jar=2021-05-02-01&ifi=5&uci=a!5&btvi=5&fsb=1&xpc=dBpIxN2aKj&p=https%3A//

This darling duo’s friendship shows us that even though two individuals may not look alike and may come from completely different backgrounds, they can form a wonderful friendship.

You can see how strong the darling duo’s bond is in the video here:

‘Suffocating closeness’: US judge condemns ‘appalling conditions’ on industrial farms

Pork giant Smithfield has settled with North Carolina residents who sued over stench, flies and truck traffic from Kinlaw FarmsAnimals farmed is supported byAbout this content

Barry Yeoman

Fri 20 Nov 2020 11.34 EST


Pigs are seen in a pen at a farm in Ayden, North Carolina.
 Pigs in a pen at a farm in Ayden, North Carolina. Photograph: Callaghan O’Hare/Bloomberg/Getty

A US judge has issued a blistering condemnation of industrial farming practices. The judgment comes as one US meat giant finally settles after a six-year legal battle with plaintiffs who sued the company over the stench, flies, buzzards and truck traffic coming from its industrial swine farms in North Carolina.

J Harvie Wilkinson III, one of the judges in a case that pitted locals against the Smithfield subsidiary formerly known as Murphy-Brown, decried the “outrageous conditions” at Kinlaw Farms, the operation at the center of the lawsuit – “conditions that there is no reason to suppose were unique to that facility”.

“How did it come to this?” wrote Wilkinson, who was nominated to the fourth US circuit court of appeals by then president Ronald Reagan and has served since 1984. “What was missing from Kinlaw Farms – and from Murphy-Brown – was the recognition that treating animals better will benefit humans. What was neglected is that animal welfare and human welfare, far from advancing at cross-purposes, are actually integrally connected. The decades-long transition to concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFOs] lays bare this connection, and the consequences of its breach, with startling clarity.”

Wilkinson described a system in which pigs were forced to live in enclosures they had outgrown, reducing them “to almost suffocating closeness … The dangers endemic to such appalling conditions always manifested first in animal suffering. Ineluctably, however, the ripples of dysfunction would reach farm workers and, at last, members of the surrounding community.”

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His comments concurred with the court’s main opinion.

More than 500 North Carolinians, most of them black, filed more than two dozen lawsuits in 2014. Some lived near farms that had contracts with Smithfield. Others lived near farms owned by the company outright. They described being trapped inside their own homes, sickened by the smell of hog waste stored in open pits, and unable to hang laundry, cook outdoors, or entertain visitors.

The announcement of the company’s decision to settle came immediately after the fourth circuit in Richmond, Virginia, rejected a call from the world’s largest pork producer for a retrial of one of the cases. Juries in 2018 and 2019 had awarded hog farm neighbors almost $550m. The US district court in Raleigh, North Carolina, knocked the awards down to about $98m because of a state law capping punitive damages.

Smithfield’s chief administrative officer, Keira Lombardo, said in a statement: “In the midst of a global pandemic, where food shortages have been commonplace, it is now the time to keep our full attention on the important work of producing good food in a responsible and sustainable way – rather than returning to the court for what would be ongoing and distracting litigation.” Details of the settlement were not disclosed.

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Smithfield lost the first five cases that went to trial. It appealed the three largest verdicts, calling the litigation an “almost existential threat” to North Carolina farmers. It claimed the district court had made numerous errors, such as allowing the neighbors’ odor expert to testify while excluding some testimony from Smithfield’s expert.

In the new ruling, a three-judge panel rejected most of the pork producer’s arguments. The company “persisted in its chosen farming practices despite its knowledge of the harms to its neighbors, exhibiting wanton or wilful disregard of the neighbors’ rights to enjoyment of their property,” Judge Stephanie Thacker, an Obama nominee, wrote for the court.

The appellate judges did agree with Smithfield on one point: that the plaintiff’s lawyer improperly used the parent company’s financial data to convince jurors that punitive damages had to be large enough for the pork giant to feel. The appellate ruling said jurors should not have heard those details. “We fail to see what value the parent company financial evidence would have that could possibly outweigh the substantial risk of prejudice it carries in that delicate context,” wrote Thacker.

Elsie Herring, a plaintiff in another of the cases, said she was pleased that the court had sided with the neighbors on most issues. “Our lives have been destroyed by the industry,” she said. The North Carolina law firm Wallace & Graham, which represented the plaintiffs, did not respond to questions about the settlement. It said in a statement that the appellate court “fully got the truth” of its clients’ struggles.

‘Pigs fly’ Lambert airport performs first-ever live animal export

[In regards to their treatment of non-human animals, the human world has finally gone mad!]

by: Vic FaustPosted: Nov 12, 2020 / 06:39 PM CST / Updated: Nov 13, 2020 / 11:07 AM CSTjavascript:false

ST. LOUIS – To hear the saying “that’ll happen when pigs fly” usually mean it’ll never happen. However, pigs flew for the first time out of St. Louis Lambert International Airport Thursday morning.

The airport had their first-ever live animal export, shipping more than 200 breeding pigs from Henderson, Tenn. to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Breeding animals is a twenty billion dollar a year global industry with demands increasing during pandemic restrictions.

St. Louis is said to be a perfect location and one of the best airport facilities for the transportation of live animals.

“It’s a customized penning facility, 18,000 square feet at Lambert. It’s one of the only facilities where it’s based on airport ground,” Executive Director of the World Trade Center of St. Louis Tim Nowak said.Top story: Page comments on mask mandate and outdoor dining before new orders begin 

The facility is extremely important when it comes to the care of animals especially because time is of the essence.

The airport can make transportation happen quickly.

“We have a facility that’s designated to ship pigs, cattle, horses, for breeding purposes to Asia, South America, and all throughout the world,” Nowak said.

Several groups like the World Trade Center of St. Louis and the Midwest Cargo Pub Commission contributed to the project.

“We’re right here in the mid part of U.S…so pigs could come from anywhere or around in Missouri or around the state of Missouri,” Nowak said.

The transportation of live animals actually began a decade ago when the St. Louis area tried to secure a relationship with China.

Skamokawa couple face animal cruelty charges

By Diana Zimmerman

August 6, 2020

Wahkiakum County Engineer Paul Lacy and his wife, Daria were scheduled to be in Wahkiakum District Court on Wednesday morning for a preliminary hearing. The pair have been charged with 11 counts of animal cruelty in the second degree and two counts of transporting or confining a domestic animal in an unsafe manner in a case that brought Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Office to their Skamokawa property multiple times over the course of several months in 2019.

A brief overview, according to reports from the Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Office:

On May 2, 2019, WCSO received a complaint that several horses were loose in Skamokawa. When deputies responded, they found a small pig standing atop a larger decomposing pig carcass in a pig pen that was several inches deep in mud and feces. Nearby in a garage, they found several dogs standing shoulder to shoulder, unable to lay down in a kennel, along with a smaller cage containing more dogs. The dogs were without food and water. Two calves were found without water, and a dozen or more chicks were found without food or water.

On June 8, 2019, the WCSO received a report of possible animal cruelty at a property in Skamokawa.

A deputy found one horse up to its knees in mud and feces. There was an overturned water bucket nearby, and no feed. The horse had swollen knees and had lost patches of hair. Nearby in a horse area, he found four horses with untrimmed hooves and swollen knees. Several of the horses had ribs showing.

Paul Lacy said he had sold about 20 horses and still had about 18 remaining. He said it was not uncommon for horses to not get their hooves trimmed, stating that the Department of Natural Resources does not trim wild horses’ feet.

A witness provided photos of neglect, including a horse with visible ribs standing in a stall in mud up to its knees. A second photo showed a horse with overgrown hooves and visible ribs, and a third photo showed two horses with visible ribs.

On June 15, 2019, deputies and an animal control officer from Cowlitz County visited the Lacy home to inspect the animals. The animal control officer “found them to be in such bad conditions and health, according to her training and experience, that probable cause existed for Animal Cruelty.”

On June 18, 2019, deputies were told about an injured horse. A caller said she had witnessed people loading most of the horses onto a truck, but found a horse with a broken leg in a stall, bleeding out. Deputies responded. They found two horses in a muddy pen, one of which had clearly defined ribs, hips, and shoulder bones. Several pigs were in a large stall, laying in and wandering around in mud, feces, and bones. A horse with a leg injury was found deceased nearby, with what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the head.

On June 21, 2019, deputies returned to the farm. They found a horse with open wounds on its muzzle and face. Photographs were taken.

Paul Lacy said that the horse that had been euthanized had been buried in his back field, and that he had gotten rid of several dogs. He said that he did not want to get rid of any more, as he and his wife, Daria, planned to breed them to sell. He was advised that they would need a license.

Lacy was advised at that time that if he did not continue to improve the care of his current animals, he would be subject to criminal charges.

On June 24, 2019, Lacy said in a missive that he had reduced the number of horses from 18 to two, the number of dogs by five, the number of chickens by two, and the number of pigs by one, with a plan to auction three and harvest two.

On July 3, 2019, a neighbor reported that some of Lacy’s animals were on their property. The Lacys were given a warning. Deputies noted that the two remaining horses appeared to be in better condition, and that pigs were in a newly constructed pen with food and water available.

On December 15, 2019, a search warrant was served by the sheriff’s office in conjunction with the Cowlitz County Humane Society, which seized four pigs, one sow, five piglets, 15 sheep/goats, four ducks, four ducklings, one turkey, seven dogs, and 32 bird eggs in an incubator. Two dogs were found in a room, with evidence that they had attempted to gnaw and scratch their way out. The floor was smeared with feces, and there was no food or water. In the same room, they found a cage containing a duck and ducklings, the bottom of the cage full of liquid feces, resulting in a fetid odor. The animal control officer was heard to say that day that “this was one of the worst cases she has worked on.”

On December 19, they returned to collect the remaining animals, including 10 turkeys, 11 geese, 61 ducks, 42 chickens, one pack rat, and two pigeons. Every bird had a lice infestation, according to the report.

The idealistic life and violent death of Hamilton animal rights champion Regan Russell

By Jon WellsSpectator Reporter

Sun., Aug. 2, 2020timer12 min. read

On her last evening alive, on the cusp of summer, Regan Russell sat in her backyard under a towering maple worthy of the Garden of Eden.

This was off Locke Street South, around the corner from St. John the Evangelist church, where as a girl she had asked the minister if animals had souls, and why they were sacrificed to God in the Bible.

Russell felt a weariness, and also foreboding, at what lay ahead.

She planned to attend her latest animal rights protest the next morning, June 19, outside Fearmans Pork on Harvester Road in Burlington.

Activists call the weekly demonstrations “vigils,” at which they “bear witness” to pigs hauled in trucks for slaughter, talk to the animals through gaps in the ventilated trailers, and squirt water into their mouths, as drivers pause before entering the facility.

She felt despair about a law passed two days earlier in the Ontario legislature — Bill 156 — that she knew would make it harder, even dangerous, to fulfil her calling to advocate for the pigs’ living conditions and work toward stopping the killing of animals altogether.

In her backyard, Russell, who had recently turned 65, sipped a glass of wine and talked with her spouse Mark Powell.

She had been active in animal rights for 40 years.


She cared for rabbits, raccoons and wounded squirrels; she protested at Marineland in Niagara and a sled dog breeding operation in Quebec.

She pushed the envelope in her activism and was arrested nearly a dozen times.

“Maybe it’s time for you to pass the torch to the younger generation,” Powell told her. “We can still support them any way we can.”

He was worried for her safety more than usual.

But he also knew there was no stopping her. All he could do was say his piece.

The next afternoon, a woman stood at his door.

“There’s been an accident,” she said, tears in her eyes.

“Slaughterhouse,” Powell said.


“It’s not good, is it?”


One of the trucks carrying pigs had hit and killed Russell.

Her body had been taken to hospital for an autopsy.

The ripple effect of her death was about to be felt far beyond Hamilton.

The 28-year-old driver of the truck has been charged with careless driving causing death by Halton Regional Police under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, and police say “there were no grounds to indicate this was an intentional act.” But questions remain about exactly what happened that morning.

The answer to the deeper question of why Regan Russell took her final breath standing athwart a truck loaded with farm animals, moments from their inevitable end, is both simple and complicated.

The notion that farm animals like pigs are sentient — that they feel pain, at least as acutely as a dog, cat or an infant child — is the philosophical bedrock on which activists stand.

And it’s not mere faith, suggests University of Guelph behavioural biologist Georgia Mason.

“Pigs are considered sentient by the European Union and the National Academy of Science, and every animal welfare research group in the world,” she says.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture recently issued a statement questioning animal sentience, adding: “We simply don’t know if animals are capable of reasoning and cognitive thought.”

But cognition — the ability to understand and acquire knowledge — is distinct from the ability to feel, and it’s a red herring to raise it, Mason says.

“Most recognize that animals are sentient, and it’s not the same as saying they have cognition like humans. It just means they have feelings.”

She says the issue of sentience is more controversial when considering animals such as reptiles, fish, and mammals in a developmental stage — including humans.

“There are questions about at what point a fetus becomes sentient.”

The belief that animals deserve rights in line with humans was popularized 45 years ago in the book “Animal Liberation” by Australian philosopher Peter Singer.

He argued that if one accepts that unequal treatment between humans due to differences in race, gender or intelligence is immoral, then so too is poor treatment of animals, who are physically different from people, but “morally equal.”

It would be “speciesism” to think otherwise, he wrote, and: “We have to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Regan Russell read the book in her early 20s. Its message found a hungry mind and open heart.

And then, in 1977, she read about the seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, that had attracted international attention including a visit from French film star Brigitte Bardot, who condemned “Canadian assassins” clubbing the animals.

Russell had always loved animals but now the spark was lit.

She was living in Winnipeg at the time and made a sign and stood on a street corner.

“I thought, I’ll make a sign and protest and it will all stop,” she said to a journalist in a documentary. “I thought, when everyone knows, how could it possibly continue?”

Russell was idealistic, driven, and just getting started.

She grew up in west Hamilton in the 1960s. Bill and Pat Russell named their first of two children after one of the daughters in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” — a rare name for a girl then.

Bill, a music teacher at Regan’s elementary school, took a political science degree at McMaster University on the side, during the ascendance of feminism and civil rights.

There was always lots of conversation around the dinner table.

Regan read on subjects from Socrates to Gandhi and Roman history, but did not attend college or university after graduating from Westdale high school.

She married at 19, and when her husband’s job took him out west, she followed, and worked modelling for Eaton’s. (She refused to model fur, and was ultimately arrested at a fur protest in a department store in Toronto, along with her father.)

The “Animal Liberation” book is a gateway for many activists; a “moral shock” according to Emily Gaarder, an anthropologist at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who wrote a book about the predominance of women in the animal rights movement.

But, she adds, there are other influences, as well.

Russell married twice before meeting Mark Powell in 2001. They knew each other as kids; she was six years older and had taught him Sunday school at church.

She chose to never have children. Powell says she talked of her fear that she would never develop a strong enough connection with a child.

Instead, he says, she directed her nurturing instinct toward animals.

One of Powell’s two sons from his first marriage called Russell, his stepmother, “Snow White,” after watching her talking to animals.

Ideology is another influence on activists. Gaarder says women emboldened to vigorously advance their cause are “political thinkers making political choices.”

That was true for Anita Krajnc, who joined Russell at many animal rights protests.

Krajnc earned several university degrees including a doctorate in political science.

Into her 20s, Krajnc says she was still a meat eater who “salivated at pig roasts.” She converted to veganism after reading “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” but an incident in her early 40s flipped a switch to her calling.

She lived near a slaughterhouse in Toronto and one day, walking her dog, she came across pigs on a truck. Later that year, she helped found Toronto Pig Save.

“I never took action until I saw the pigs,” she says. “I couldn’t believe how scared and sad they were. It looked like they were in a dungeon. A pig looked at me, and I promised him three vigils a week. And we kept that promise.”

In 2015, Krajnc was charged with criminal mischief for giving water to pigs. She was found not guilty, with Regan Russell offering moral support in the courtroom.

The pair campaigned against Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act. Activists believe it is a draconian “ag-gag” measure that will prevent them from exposing inhumane animal treatment.

While the vigils at Fearmans are held just outside the property, at other times, including last summer, Russell and fellow activists entered the grounds to give water to pigs, as workers yelled at them to leave.

In other incidents in Ontario, members of the group “Direct Action Everywhere” have broken into animal breeding barns to retrieve ducks and pigs.

Supporters of the bill say that when activists give water to pigs or trespass on private property, it creates dangerous situations for workers and farmers and is potentially harmful to the food supply.


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Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, told The Spectator the bill will not prohibit demonstrations, “but it will be illegal to interact with livestock. It’s dangerous when they put things in the trucks, whether it is water or something else.”

He says the bill won’t prevent whistle-blowing, and if anyone at a farm or meat processing plant “sees something inappropriate, we want it reported. I have no tolerance for animal cruelty.”

Activists believe that not only are pigs and other animals mistreated prior to killing, but that eating meat is wrong.

Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, says the food system needs to “undergo a massive shift away from eating animals and toward eating plants, to spare billions of animals from unimaginable suffering, to tackle the climate crisis, and because eating animals is a serious risk to public health.”

In an email to The Spectator, she added: “Most people are shocked to learn animal welfare on farms is almost completely unregulated in Canada, and the government doesn’t inspect or monitor the conditions the animals like pigs are kept in … The industry gets to police itself; the figurative fox is guarding the literal henhouse.”

“That is an inaccurate statement,” counters Cameron Newbigging, a spokesperson with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, who says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforces regulations for the humane transport and slaughter of animals, and “provincial inspectors go onto farms where irregularities are suspected or complaints are received.”

What constitutes humane treatment is spelled out in Ontario’s Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act passed in 2019, and the federal Health of Animals Act.

One example is regulations for herding animals. Activists lament the use of electric prods to force pigs off trucks; the regulations say prods are permitted on pigs at least three months old, so long as “it is not applied to a sensitive area including the belly and the anal, genital and facial regions of the animal.”

Another regulation is that pigs and other animals cannot be trucked when the shipping time is longer than 12 hours.

Sofina Foods, owner of Fearmans Pork since 2012, said in a statement to The Spectator that its pigs come from farms within a three-hour radius of the plant, “well below the travel time permitted and recommended by regulators.”

For Regan Russell and other activists, the point of opposing Bill 156 was to ensure they remain free to comfort farm animals, and keep a close eye on transport and killing techniques in the industry.

On her Facebook page on June 18, Russell called the bill “evil.”

The protest on June 19 was different than the routine vigils. In addition to bearing witness, it was intended to draw attention to the bill.

That morning, just after 10 a.m., one of the trucks hauling pigs stopped on Harvester Road before it reached the gates of Fearmans.

Activists waited on the sidewalk for their chance to give water to the pigs.

Enforcement under the new law had not yet come into effect; they could still interact with the animals as usual.

Activists say that in the past, drivers have mostly co-operated with the vigils, but occasionally have confronted protesters.

Krajnc, who was not present that day, says she was told by witnesses the truck idled further away from activists than usual, disrupting traffic, “and creating a sense of chaos.”

At the same time, she said, Russell stood apart from the others, in the driveway closer to the gates of the property, and at some point the truck started to move again.

A news release from Pig Save Toronto says Russell “tried to jump from the path of the truck before it plowed into her.” Halton police said in a news release that it was not an “intentional act.”

video documentary about Russell, posted on the Pig Save Facebook page, says she was hit and dragged by the truck and her body mangled underneath.

“One of our activists has been killed,” says a man filming the aftermath on his phone. “Jesus Christ. It finally f—ing happened.”

Within days, animal rights activists held tributes in Russell’s honour, from Argentina to the U.K. and Italy, and in Germany, where protesters hung a banner on a slaughterhouse in Berlin bearing Russell’s likeness.

In Los Angeles, actor Joaquin Phoenix held a sign at a rally that read “Save Pigs 4 Regan,” and said in a statement: “Regan Russell spent the final moments of her life providing comfort to pigs who had never experienced the touch of a kind hand.”

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) announced it had acquired two six-week old pigs from a farm in Iowa, and took the rare step of naming them after an activist: One is named Regan and the other, Russell. They will live in an animal sanctuary in upstate New York.

A march was held in Toronto, where activists called on the province to implement “Regan’s Law,” a bill of rights to protect farm animals.

Powell was among the speakers.

“It is a horrible, life-changing tragedy, for everyone she knew and touched,” he says.

One of her oldest friends, Katherine Wightman, who Russell met through modelling in Winnipeg, says Regan used to talk about being ready to die for her cause.

“She died a martyr,” says Wightman. “She could have worked until she was 100 and never accomplished what this tragic death has.”

Russell’s death has become one of those moral shocks: her face a symbol, her alliterative name a rally cry.

At a pig vigil held three weeks after the incident, flowers from a tribute to her remained hanging on a fence outside Fearmans, having wilted and dried in the heat.

About 18 activists were there, and for some it was their first time.

Nancy Robertson drove 40 minutes from Cambridge where she works as a nurse, wearing a shirt with Russell’s likeness on it.

“(Russell) opened my eyes to doing more for the animals, being in public, having a united front and speaking up for them … Seeing the animals in distress deeply affected me. I’ve never seen one up close before. We would never treat a dog or cat or human that way.”

Jessie Watkinson drove an hour to attend, also inspired by Russell. She cried after offering water to the pigs.

“They were too hot and exhausted to even drink. You connect with one, they look at you, and in that two minutes you show them the compassion. I just wish we could do more.”

At her final protest, Russell had taken her turn spraying water into the mouths of the pigs. And she held a sign that read: “The truth should never be illegal.”

After she was killed, pigs in the truck that hit her were herded onto another, while police officers investigated.

There had been so much commotion in the moment: blood, sirens, and screams from an activist recorded on a phone: “No! No!”

If what Regan Russell believed to her core is true, that pigs feel and have perception beyond our understanding, then it was not just the humans who felt it deeply that morning: that something gentle and beautiful had been lost, on the road to slaughter.

Jon Wells is a Hamilton-based reporter and feature writer for The Spectator. Reach him via email:

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The idealistic life and violent death of Hamilton animal rights champion Regan Russell

Breaking news: Parent company of Giant Food, Food Lion and Stop & Shop to eliminate cruel cages for egg-laying hens, mother pigs

July 31, 2020

Breaking news: Parent company of Giant Food, Food Lion and Stop & Shop to eliminate cruel cages for egg-laying hens, mother pigs

The company will also eliminate any pork produced through locking mother pigs in gestation crates from its supply chain. Photo by

Ahold Delhaize, the company that owns some of the largest grocery chains in the United States, including Food Lion, Giant Food, the GIANT Company, Hannaford and Stop & Shop, has announced it will only sell eggs from cage-free chickens across all its stores by 2025 or sooner. The company will also eliminate any pork produced through locking mother pigs in gestation crates from its supply chain.

This is incredible news, coming as it does from what is the nation’s fourth-largest grocery retailer, with more than 2,000 locations. The company’s new animal welfare policy, which comes after dialogue with the Humane Society of the United States, eliminates two of the most heinous forms of intensive animal confinement in cages and crates. Cages used to confine egg-laying chickens are so small that the animals cannot express natural behaviors like running, exploring or even extending their wings. Each chicken is given less space than a sheet of paper on which to live. Gestation crates, used to confine mother pigs, are about the same width and length of the animal’s body, leaving them with no room to even turn around.

The announcement from Ahold Delhaize is the latest in a series of similar pledges that the HSUS, Humane Society International, and other animal protection organizations have secured from hundreds of major food companies over the last decade, including Kroger, Nestle and Unilever. With our Food Industry Scorecard, we are keeping track of the progress these companies are making toward achieving their cage-free goals.

In addition, we have helped secure the passage of a dozen state laws to end the cruel cage confinement of farm animals, including in Massachusetts where Ahold Delhaize is based.

While cage-free doesn’t equate to cruelty-free, thanks to the headway we’re making, tens of millions of animals will never know the misery of being locked in tiny cages for their entire lives. Let’s take a moment today to celebrate this incredible win for egg-laying hens and mother pigs even as we continue our work to dismantle the cruelty of cage confinement in the United States and abroad.

Truck Driver Who Ran Over Animal Advocate Escapes Criminal Charges

July 20, 2020


A transport truck driver has avoided criminal prosecution in connection with
the death of animal advocate Regan Russell. Regan was violently run over and
killed last month by a truck taking pigs to slaughter outside Fearmans Pork
slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ontario.

The Halton Police
announced that they laid one provincial Highway Traffic Act charge against
the 28-year old truck driver-careless driving causing death. The police did
not release the name of the truck driver, or the video of the incident.

Provincial charges are considered far less serious than criminal charges.
The provincial offence of careless driving causing death carries with it a
penalty of $2,000 to $50,000 and up to two years in jail, and no criminal
record. A comparable criminal offence, such as dangerous driving causing
death, would be punishable by large fines and up to 14 years in prison, plus
a criminal record.

Regan Russell was a member of the Animal Save Movement, and was at the
slaughterhouse on the day she was killed to document the condition of pigs
trucked to slaughter in sweltering heat, and to help provide water to them.
She was also there in protest of Bill 156, dangerous so-called “ag gag”
ver-up-animal-abuse-on-farms> passed two days earlier by the provincial
government. Bill 156 aims to cover up animal cruelty in the farming
industry, and interferes with the Charter-protected rights of citizens and
journalists to protest and document animal abuse at farms, slaughterhouses,
and in transport. Animal Justice intends to
nst-bill-156-in-court> challenge the constitutionality of Bill 156 in court.

Although the police did not lay criminal charges against the trucker, they
rarely extend this leniency to animal advocates. Law enforcement authorities
regularly give preferential, slap-on-the-wrist treatment to industries
responsible for animal suffering, while pursuing serious criminal
prosecutions against people who expose and take action to stop animal

For instance, advocates have gathered extensive footage depicting illegal
pig suffering in transport trucks outside Fearmans Pork, including pigs
suffering from heat exhaustion and frostbite, and pigs arriving injured,
dead, or dying. Federal authorities generally refuse to prosecute Fearmans
or truckers for this suffering. Yet in 2015, the Halton Police charged
Animal Save Movement founder Anita Krajnc with criminal mischief for giving
water to thirsty pigs trapped inside a truck outside Fearmans Slaughterhouse
on a sweltering day. She was
ater-case/article34893404/> acquitted following a much-publicized trial.

Police also regularly lay trumped-up criminal charges against animal
advocates for acts that are not a criminal offence, such as going onto
private property to expose hidden animal suffering on meat and fur farms.
But law enforcement often goes easy on farmers responsible for abuse. Farms
and slaughterhouses caught on hidden camera viciously abusing animals have
never faced a single Criminal Code charge for animal cruelty in Ontario.
Authorities generally don’t bother to prosecute at all, even when there is
clear video evidence. On the rare occasions when charges are laid, they are
always less serious provincial charges.

Regan Russell’s family is also
<> calling
for a coroner’s inquest into her brutal death. A coroner’s inquest is
typically used to uncover broader, systemic issues responsible for a death.
In the case of Fearmans Pork, the slaughterhouse had for years refused to
negotiate a safety agreement with the Animal Save Movement to allow for safe
and peaceful protests, and truckers who created safety risks had never been

Photo credit: Animal Save


-escapes-criminal-charges> Animal Justice – Truck Driver Who Ran Over Animal
Advocate Escapes Criminal Charges

A transport truck driver has avoided criminal prosecution in connection with
the death of animal advocate Regan Russell. Regan was violently run over and
killed last month by a truck taking pigs to slaughter outside Fearmans Pork
slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ontario. The Halton Police announced that they
laid one provincial Highway Traffic Act charge against. <>

The Birth of a Bill, the Death of an Activist

Saturday, July 18, 2020byToronto Star

Regan’s viewpoint, known as intersectionality, is the theory that all forms of oppression, discrimination, domination etc., intersect and influence each other.byFiona Roossien


Regan Russell, the Toronto Pig Save activist who was killed by a truck carrying pigs to slaughter. (Photo: Agnes Cseke)

Regan Russell, the Toronto Pig Save activist who was killed by a truck carrying pigs to slaughter. (Photo: Agnes Cseke)

On June 19, a protester was killed. Perhaps her death was obscured by the din of headlines that Friday—it was Juneteenth, a day marking the end of slavery.

Protests against systemic racism catalyzed by the death of George Floyd juxtaposed with a Trump rally scheduled on the anniversary and in the location of the worst incident of racial violence in the U.S. Tensions were high.

Her name was Regan Russell and while participating in a scheduled vigil outside of Fearmans slaughterhouse in Burlington, she was run down by a transport truck carrying pigs on their way to slaughter.

In the news covering this event, and in conversations I’ve had with friends and family, it seems the significance of a protester being run down by the very thing she was protesting has been missed. It seems many wonder what she was doing there.

A local news story gives the following account from someone who witnessed the event from a distance: “Then I saw a woman … I assumed the truck driver thought he was clear to go and didn’t see that last protester.”

Ironically, being seen is an important goal of the vigils held by animal rights groups at slaughterhouses—one way to create more visibility in an industry that would prefer to keep its practices hidden. And Regan was unignorable.

But she was also there that day to protest Bill 156—a new ag-gag law that had been passed two days earlier. Criticized as unconstitutional, Bill 156 is handcrafted to stifle damning evidence of the cruelty that is endemic to animal agriculture, with provisions that are distinctly anti-whistle-blower and anti-free-speech.

Like its counterpart, Bill 27 in Alberta, Bill 156 represents the influence of a powerful farming lobby desperately trying to limit exposure of something that can harm their bottom line — visibility into how the animal agriculture industry works. These sections don’t serve to protect the animals or reinforce biosecurity; they serve the sole purpose of controlling information.

The day before she died, Regan wrote on social media: “Bill 156 has passed. Now anytime an animal is suffering on a farm in Ontario, no one, not even an employee, has the right to expose it. This decision is evil. Animal ag is evil. Cancel animal agriculture.”

I’m so sorry that you didn’t get a chance to meet Regan Russell yourself. You would have loved her. I only hope that, in clearing up some of the questions about vigils, I can do her justice.

Regan didn’t look like what I suppose you’d expect a vegan to look like. At 65, Regan still possessed the qualities that decades earlier had made her a model — that is to say, her outer beauty was undeniable. But on the inside — well, that was truly special. She was funny and fast-witted, kind and patient.

She vibrated on a high frequency, if you are familiar with the concept. She was cynical, in a wise way, yet optimistic enough to try to make a difference. For 40 years, she had tried to make a difference. A week prior to her death, she had marched at a Black Lives Matter rally.

You see, Regan’s viewpoint, known as intersectionality, is the theory that all forms of oppression, discrimination, domination etc., intersect and influence each other. One of the signs she frequently brought to vigils read: “If you were in this truck, we’d be here for you too.” And you know what? She would have.

Personally speaking, up until two years ago, I wouldn’t have considered being an activist myself, despite being vegan for several years. It was my then 10-year old son — frustrated because he had been forbidden to talk about animal agriculture at school, who begged me and his dad, also vegan, to take him to a vigil. It became our church. Every Sunday morning we went to bear witness at Fearmans — sometimes with just a handful of people, sometimes in a group of 20 or more. Regan was almost always there too.

This leads me to an important point about Regan’s experience — as an activist, and specifically attending vigils at Fearmans, which she had done for years. This translates to hundreds of vigils, stopping thousands of transport trucks, bearing witness to the final moments of hundreds of thousands of pigs.

Regan understood the risks — after all, rogue aggressive drivers had been encountered in the past. In fact, this issue was the impetus for a petition created by Toronto Pig Save on urging Michael Latifi, the CEO of Fearmans/Sofina Foods Inc., to create​ ​a safety agreement allowing activists to safely protest. Although the request has been ignored to date, other efforts had been made by both Toronto Pig Save and another activist group, New Wave Activism, to liaise with police, work with security and establish rapport with drivers.

Safety protocol is reviewed regularly with the group. Every vigil is timed. Roles are assigned to protestors to improve safety. Regan had one of those roles that day — standing at the entrance, just on the other side of the pedestrian sidewalk, with her now iconic bright neon sign that read ALL ANIMALS NEED PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW.

Although, thanks to the newly passed Bill 156, the ability to legally protect animals would soon be more difficult. It is a bill that exemplifies prioritization of commerce over our rights as Canadians and specifically seeks to punish animal activists. This reality was certainly top-of-mind for Regan and the other activists there that day — as much as it was likely on the radar of those who profit from animal agriculture.

As you can imagine, losing Regan has been a devastating loss to the activism community, to Toronto Pig Save and New Wave Activism and to the many individuals who Regan touched with her beauty, wisdom and compassion. Personally, there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t cried a tear or two hundred — for the loss of a friend, and the loss of innocence, as I see for the first time just how unforgiving the machine we stand against can be.

And in the wake of Regan’s death, we are emboldened to articulate our demands in her name:

Justice for Regan Russell; the creation of a universal safety protocol for all future vigils; the repeal of Bill 156; greater visibility into farms where animals are kept and slaughterhouses via 24/7 video; monitoring that can be accessed by the public; the conversion of Fearmans Pork into an exclusively plant-based facility focused on the manufacture of plant protein; and the defunding of animal agriculture.

On the captivity, Regan said: “They say we’re breaking the law by storming? How do you think women got the right (to vote)? How do you think slavery was abolished? People stood up and broke the laws! Because they’re stupid laws.”

Let’s stand up to this stupid law.

Fiona Roossien wrote this article on behalf of Toronto Pig Save.