Costco Hits Back At Activists Who Projected Slaughterhouse Footage Onto Its Store

Activists from Direct Action Everywhere are calling on Costco to stop selling pig flesh from Smithfield Foods


4 Minutes Read

Animal activists protested outside a Costco store in San Francisco Activists protested outside a Costco store in San Francisco - Media Credit: Direct Action Everywhere

Costco has sent a cease and desist letter to animal rights activists who projected footage of dying pigs onto the side of one of its San Francisco stores.

The action, which was part of a new campaign from Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), took place on January 18, 2023. The group obtained the footage after planting hidden cameras inside the Smithfield-owned Farmer John slaughterhouse in LA. It showed pigs thrashing, gasping, and screaming while being gassed with a 90 percent concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2). The activists were calling on Costco to drop Smithfield as a supplier.

Legal action

Costco has claimed, however, that DxE violated a California-wide injunction by projecting the footage. The retailer filed a federal lawsuit against DxE and three members back in 2019 following several investigations into factory farms it was linked to, as well as dozens of related in-store protests. DxE has since carried out protests on public property.

The letter demanded that it stop “conducting demonstrations, including projecting, beaming and/or displaying any video footage, images, or messaging on its warehouses, buildings, and properties in California.”

DxE’s attorney has responded to Costco, claiming that the injunction is restricted to its private property and walkway. She also said that, in her interpretation of the language, projections from public property are not included. Costco’s counsel has disagreed with the group’s assessment, and DxE has offered to go back to the judge with the retailer for clarification.

“Instead of responding to our evidence of animal cruelty by dropping Smithfield, Costco has chosen to punish the whistleblowers,” said Almira Tanner, lead organizer of Direct Action Everywhere and one of the named defendants in Costco’s lawsuit. “They want to push us away as far as they can send us.”

Activists from Direct Action Everywhere gather outside Costco to show pig gassing footage
Direct Action Everywhere Activists are calling on Costco to drop Smithfield

Pig gassing in the US

The video projected by the activists showed a common method used during pig slaughter in the US. The high concentration of CO2 forms a carbonic acid on wet surfaces it touches, including pigs’ eyes, lungs, and throats. Experts have said that this means they “burn from the inside out.” It can take up to 60 seconds for them to go unconscious. Carbon dioxide gassing is routinely used in many other countries, including the UK, where around 86 percent are subjected to this method.

According to federal prosecutor Bonnie Klapper, who reviewed the video, this gassing of this nature is in violation of the Humane Slaughter Act. The act states that CO2 gas can only be used if it accomplishes “anesthesia quickly and calmly, with a minimum of excitement and discomfort to the animals.” 

Smithfield has denied any wrongdoing. Jim Monroe, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, stated: “The USDA, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and many other authorities on animal health recognize carbon dioxide stunning as a humane stunning method for food animals. Carbon dioxide stunning quickly renders hogs into a state of analgesia.” 

Despite Smithfield’s claim, carbon dioxide gassing is widely believed to be an inhumane method of killing. 

“Smithfield gets away with concealing animal suffering in gas chambers because the USDA and companies like Costco willfully look away,” said Raven Deerbrook, the DxE activist who planted the hidden cameras. “That’s why people like me have to go to these terrifying places to show you what no one else will.”

Direct Action Everywhere’s campaign

Direct Action Everywhere animal activist Raven Deerbrook
Direct Action Everywhere Raven Deerbrook presented the USDA with footage of their findings

This action was part of DxE’s Stop Gas Chambers campaign, which aims to put an end to the CO2 gassing method. 

A few days after the Costco action, activists gathered outside USDA headquarters in Berkeley, CA. Activist Raven Deerbrook, who planted the hidden cameras in the slaughterhouse, entered the building and spoke with director Mr. Bill Orts, giving him a USB drive that contained the footage. She also presented him with a printed letter containing more than 1,500 signatures calling on the USDA to take action. 

Visit StopGasChambers.Org for more information. 

This article was originally published on February 7, 2023. It was last updated on March 2 to include information on Costco’s cease and desist letter.

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