Sean Diener admits he crept under cover of darkness into Circle Four Farms, a massive hog farm in remote Beaver County, to document what he says are cruel living conditions.
He says he even "rescued" two pigs, took them to a veterinarian and then gave them asylum at an undisclosed sanctuary.
But was it theft? The Beaver County Attorney's Office is pondering whether to press charges against Diener, director of United Animal Rights Coalition. It's too soon to say, but it could lead to charges of criminal trespassing and theft of the pigs.
"We have contacted the sheriff's department" to investigated the alleged breaking in and theft of pigs, Erik Jacobsen, Circle Four Farms operations manager, said in a prepared statement.
Diener wanted to press charges, too, against Circle Four Farms but found that farm animals are exempt from Utah's animal-cruelty laws.
So now he hopes to raise public awareness and persuade lawmakers to change the law.
"We want to expose them to consumers," Diener said. "We're certain when people see the suffering that has been taking place they will take action by boycotting them."
Jacobsen said it was Diener and his group who put the pigs at risk by not following proper biosecurity procedure for protecting the animals.
"It concerns us greatly that someone would break into our farms, especially in light of national concern about bioterriorism," Jacobsen said in a prepared statement. "These people put our herd at risk because they didn't follow our biosecurity protocol. "
Diener insisted he and other members of his group followed the hog industry's guidelines by wearing protective clothing before entering the pig barns.
"Instead of being viewed as the sensitive animals they are, pigs are often seen as nothing more than mere commodities by today's agribusiness industry," he said.
It was when some 12,000 pigs at Circle Four Farms died in a fire two years ago that Diener began to focus his attention on the hog farm, which is located south of Milford in southwestern Utah.
In July, his request for a tour was denied.
"Consequently, we began our own undercover investigation," Diener said.
Between September and December, Diener said they videotaped what they saw at three of the 58 sheds on the hog farm. They found four dead pigs and countless injured ones, he added.
"We got the tip of the iceberg," Diener said.
About 20 pigs were crammed in a 55-square-foot tall stall, Diener said. The pens were saturated in ammonia and explosive gases. The hogs were coughing as though they had bronchitis and some of them were covered in their own feces, he added.
"The conditions were atrocious," he said. On their last visit, Dec. 20, they "rescued" two pigs.
In his written statement, Jacobsen disputed the charges of animal cruelty.
"Humane treatment of our animals is part of our culture. It is not enough for us to only provide shelter, adequate water and the highest quality feed to meet all their nutritional requirements; we also insist on the humane treatment of animals that enhances their well-being and complies with all applicable laws and regulations," he said. "We have a full-time veterinarian on staff. We monitor our animals constantly so that we can identify and treat animals in need of health care."