On Sunday, October 21, three women were charged with a grand theft felony each for attempting to rescue a dying calf found in a pile of dead cows on at Ray-Mar Ranches, a factory farm in Oakdale, California which supplies calves to Harris Ranch, and beef to companies like Costco and In-N-Out Burger. Despite the calf left for dead in a pile of cows meant to be discarded, providing no economic value as the pile is not intended for use in the production of animal products, the women were charged with grand theft felonies. Under California’s Penal Code, grand theft is defined as property valued at $950 or greater or any type of farm animal no matter the estimated economic value.
"They saw this calf was dying and they didn't do anything, rather, they were very interested in criminalizing us. The workers came to take away the calf. I don’t know anything that happened to the calf after that."
—Priya Sawhney, Direct Action Everywhere“They saw this calf was dying and they didn't do anything, rather, they were very interested in criminalizing us. The workers came to take away the calf. I don’t know anything that happened to the calf after that,” Priya Sawhney, one of the women arrested, told us in an interview. “The officers spent a good ten minutes scrolling through a list, it looked like they were going to settle on petty theft, but they changed the charge to grand theft.”
The three animal rights activists with the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) were video documenting conditions on the farm after participating in a protest vigil outside the farm property to highlight the abuses of the industry. A previous investigation uncovered the ranch exploiting a loophole in existing California animal welfare legislation to keep calves and cows in small, confined wooden hatches.
In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 2 with 63 percent in favor. The legislation was aimed at prohibiting the confinement of farm animals in spaces where they cannot stand up, turn around, or extend their limbs. The California Dairy industry was exempted from the legislation.
Despite the ban imposed on calves used for veal, a 2016 investigation conducted by Direct Action Everywhere, found the confinement crates were still being used. A June 2016 study conducted by the Dairy Industry found that 7 percent of calves die while being raised within the industry, most often due to diarrhea or pneumonia.
During the video documenting, the three women found the crates still in use and came across a graveyard pit where discarded dead cows were kept. In one of the graveyards, they discovered a baby calf still alive and were arrested as they attempted to rescue the calf away from the property.
“Throwing a living animal into a dead pile is not only a violation of industry standards, but its also a violation of California penal code 597, which indicates you cannot subject an animal to unnecessary cruelty and that includes farm animals,” Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere, told us. “Our position is factory farming is inherently cruel, but even from a factory farm perspective throwing live babies into graveyard situations where they are going to languish, slowly starve to death and suffer heat stroke is a clear criminal violation. I don’t know of anyone who would argue that is an acceptable practice.”
Animal rights activists with Direct Action Everywhere have commonly faced felony charges across the United States for conducting open rescues of mistreated farm animals. In 2017, five activists were charged with felony burglary charges for rescuing two visibly ill piglets from a farm in Utah after the group posted a video of the rescue, documenting the conditions the animals were found in. The FBI conducted multi-state raids of animal sanctuaries in search of the piglets, taking multiple DNA samples. The investigation has been characterized as a cover-up for the industry and intimidation toward activists who engage in similar operations meant to uncover common practices in the animal agriculture industry.
Last month, 58 activists were arrested and charged with felonies for attempting to rescue chickens at a Petaluma, California based poultry farm and to expose the living conditions of animals being sold to the public as free-range and organic.
In California, the activists have cited California Penal Code 597e provides them with the right to enter farms where animals are being kept in duress. The code states that “in case any domestic animal is at any time so impounded and continues to be without necessary food and water for more than 12 consecutive hours, it is lawful for any person, from time to time, as may be deemed necessary, to enter into and upon any pound in which the animal is confined, and supply it with necessary food and water so long as it remains so confined. Such person is not liable for the entry.” The group has also cited a legal opinion, from University of California Hastings Law Professor Hadar Aviram who has affirmed this right to open rescue in citing this penal code and a defense of necessity.
It's unclear what calves on the Ray-Mar Ranch are ultimately used for due to the complicated vast calf supply chain in California. As dairy cows require constant impregnation in order to continue lactating, the dairy industry regularly produces calves
The three women were later released on October 21 with bail set at $10,000 each.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment aside from clarifying the felony charges. Ray Mar Ranches did not respond to requests for comment.