Animal rights activists who secretly filmed Finnish pig farms two years
ago may now face prison
Prosecutor calls for custodial sentences for activists Saila
Kivel� and Karry Hedberg for defamation and disturbance of the peace
By Veera Luoma-aho
Just before Christmas 2009, an uproar involving pig farming in
Finland took centre stage in the Finnish media.
For a couple
of weeks, colourful
headlines were splashed across the flyers and front pages of the country's
"Dead animals, bitten-off tails - shocking pig
house photos taken by animal-rights activists".
"Minister Anttila: There are no
grounds for my resignation."
"Activists' lies were too much - pork
farmer's world collapsed."
The furor centred around video-clips filmed by animal rights activists at
night on 30 different pig farms.
The clips were aired by the Finnish
Broadcasting Company YLE in its weekly current affairs programme A-Studio.
The videos in question were part of a campaign by the animal rights
organisation Oikeutta el�imille (Justice for Animals).
included, among other things, a website entitled sikatehtaat.fi (Sikatehtaat
= pig factories, see link below).
In the videos, which were not
vieweing, pigs appeared to live in cramped and dirty conditions with little
stimulus to their existence. Some of the animals had fight wounds and
bedsores. Some dead pigs were also seen in the pens.
received wide attention. They were commented on by MPs, the then Minister of
Agriculture and Forestry Sirkka-Liisa Anttila (Centre Party), the Central
Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK), and veterinarians,
as well as by Animal Welfare Act experts.
The activists called for
Promises were made to inspect the farms most
Two years later, in October 2011, the handling of the case will commence
at the Finland Proper District Court. However, the pig farmers will not be
the ones seated on the bench reserved for the accused.
the inspections carried out at the farms, no animal rights regulations had
Instead, two activists who took part in filming the
controversial videos, 27-year-old unemployed vegan chef Karry Hedberg and
24-year-old political science student
will be charged for ten cases of disturbance of the peace and 12 cases of
The charges are serious: the prosecutor's
office is calling for a custodial sentence for Hedberg and a suspended sentence for Kivel�.
addition, the prosecution is demanding that the duo - plus two members of a
support association of the Oikeutta el�imille organisation - should pay
jointly and severally around EUR 180,000 in damages.
How did this all
In August 2011, Kivel� and Hedberg commented in a Helsinki restaurant
that in their opinion the accusations against them were "absurd" and
The pair deny any disturbance of the public peace, because
before the videos became public the farmers had not even noticed that their
farms had been visited. Hence the visits could not possibly have caused any
harm. Not one lock had been broken, not one animal had been touched.
The defamation accusations they consider utterly incomprehensible, because
nobody denied at any stage the correctness and authenticity of the videos.
"How can you defame somebody by showing something that is true?" Kivel�
"Applying the same logic, the media houses could also be taken
into court. People are not equal before the law", laughs Hedberg, and he
says that does not see himself as a future jailbird.
"It would be
outrageous if someone who brings to light an important civic issue ends up
in prison because of doing so."
According to district prosecutor Kari Lamberg, the activists implied that
crimes would have been committed on the farms, and this turned out not to be
"At no stage did we ever suggest that the activities
carried out at the pig farms were illegal. On the contrary: We wanted to
show that this sort of operation is legal in Finland, despite the fact that
it upsets many people", Hedberg insists.
All the same, the sikatehtaat.fi website reads:
"Furthermore, at many of the farms the Animal Welfare Act was grossly
violated". Why such a statement?
"Our aim was to point out that the
Animal Welfare Act is very noble and idealistic, but in practice many of its
decrees enable such animal husbandry that is in direct conflict with the aim
and spirit of the law", Kivel� formulates.
What made the two confess that they had filmed some of the controversial
One reason was that in 2007, activists had filmed 101 animal
"Facelessness always raises suspicion. Back then
attention started to shift from the real issue to the identity of the
nocturnal sneakers. We wanted to rid animal rights activism of this sort of
cloak of mystery. After all, we are fairly ordinary individuals."
strategy worked: this time around the media's attention remained with the
wellbeing of the animals, rather than focusing on the identity of the
But the fuss around the pig farms came and went, the farms continue their
operations as before, the animal welfare legislation has not been amended,
and the activists themselves may end up being the ones in the cage.
Was it worth it?
"Absolutely", Hedberg and Kivel� say in unison.
two mention a survey carried out by the Finnish meat advisory organisation
According to the study, last year twenty per cent of
women in the 15-24-year-old bracket said that they did not eat meat, when
just two years earlier the corresponding percentage was only three.
it is a question of perception, for most of us have become estranged from
how food is produced. Even ordinary tasks performed at the production farms
may seem strange", Lihatiedotus director
commented on the study in an YLE interview in March.
Kivel� and Hedberg are satisfied if they have managed in some
small way to alter people's perception of domestic meat production.
But have they themselves become alienated from the realities of
believe that the perceptions of the food producers and the activists are
quite similar", Hedberg says.
"Many other people's fond ideas of how
animals are kept are from the 1970s, however. The reality is that the number
of individual farms has dropped dramatically, and even in rural areas people
no longer recognise animal production. It has become an industry that has
little to do with the countryside, or with anything natural."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.8.2011