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Sophie has secretly taken over 200 animals from farms. This is why she’s risking prison

It’s the middle of the night, and a small group of vegan activists are sneaking through a darkened egg farm. They enter the sheds and film what they see inside the rows of cages. They then select two chickens, place them into carriers and drive off into the night.
Sophie has taken at least 200 animals this way over the years.
“I am trying to achieve total animal liberation,” she told The Feed.

“We’re going into these places and saving as many animals as we can and relocating them to a better place where they won’t be treated as a commodity.”

Sophie’s been an animal rights activist for seven years. An animal lover who grew up surrounded by pets, she became a vegan at 21 and dedicates her free time to protesting on the street, trying to convince others to go vegan. Her methods can get creative, including protesting in lingerie to attract attention.
She’s also involved in a clandestine type of action that activists call “open rescue”.

Originating in Australia in the 1980s, it’s now a worldwide form of activism that involves taking animals from farms in secret. Activists say the aim is to save individual lives, as well as documenting their living conditions.

Sophie often participates protests for animal rights while dressed in lingerie. Source: SBS

Sophie said the chickens, pigs and ducks she’s taken are rehomed with other people and allowed to roam outdoors.

What she’s doing is illegal. But Sophie feels these measures are justified, because she’s witnessed poor living conditions on many of the farms she’s visited and in her view, “animals in Australia are treated absolutely horrifically”.
“We’re seeing things such as hens being confined in small spaces…covered in their own faeces, kept in dark, cold sheds…we’ve seen them standing on top of other dead hens.”
Sophie posts the videos of her ‘outings’ on social media to spread awareness for her cause.
“There is a huge veil of secrecy that people aren’t aware of, of what happens to the animals before they end up on their plate,” Sophie said.

“We’re tearing back the curtain and showing people…the consequences of their choices.”

How does this kind of activism affect farmers?

Danyel Cucinotta says her caged egg farm has been broken into multiple times by activists.
The third-generation farmer, who’s also vice-president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, said it’s a confronting reality for her family.
“I’ve got two really small children…I don’t want them to grow up in a highly stressful environment that is volatile and could end them being harmed in their own backyard,” she said.

Danyel recalls the night her uncle woke up thinking a routine alarm had been set off, only to find two vegan activists inside one of the sheds, trying to remove around six chickens. Shaken, he called the police, who arrested the two women.

A smiling woman in a high-vis shirt stares into the distance, with vegetable fields and a tractor behind her

Danyel Cucinotta’s family egg farm has been in business for 40 years. Source: SBS

“These people were there to, in their words, ‘rescue the birds’. I’m not entirely sure what they were going to achieve with two people and 30,000 chickens,” she said.

Danyel said her farm has suffered thousands of dollars worth of damage in the incident, and she has been forced to heighten security to protect the family and workers.

They’ve also received death threats, hateful calls and comments on social media for using a caged system.
“I remember once someone saying to me, they’re going to lock me in a cage and my young children,” Danyel said.

Danyel insists the welfare of her animals is one of her top priorities. Her hens are given 750 square centimetres per bird in what’s known as “enriched” or “furnished” cages.

Close-up of several chickens inside rows of cages.

Danyel says her animals are well cared for – she posted this photo of her hens in 2018. Credit: Danyel Cucinotta/Facebook

“They’re certainly not crowded. They have more than enough room to perch, to walk around,” she said.

“There is nothing wrong with having your particular views…but imposing them in an illegal manner towards other humans and other animals is just simply not the right way to go about it.”

How many animal rights activists are involved in illegal activities?

Peter Chen is a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Sydney who’s researched the animal rights movement. He said militants – those who participate in radical action and illegal activity – make up a small minority of the activists in Australia.

“99.9 per cent of activism that occurs in Australia is completely legal, democratic activity that we encourage and wish our citizens to do,” he said.

A man with glasses in a blue suit smiles at the camera

Peter Chen is an expert on animal rights activism in Australia. Source: SBS

Peter’s research shows Australia’s animal rights activists are involved in fewer incidents of illegal activity compared to other countries.

His study analysed a database where activists self-reported on their activities – mainly illegal, ranging from graffiti to burning down abattoirs.

“What we found within the 25 countries with the most animal activism within them, that Australia ranked 19th,” he said.

A chart showing the top 7 countries with the most self-reported animal activism, and Australia ranked 19th.

Source: SBS

Peter said thousands of Australians are engaged in lawful forms of activism such as protesting, signing petitions and writing letters to MPs.

What are the penalties for illegal activism?

Penalties for illegal forms of direct action have ramped up in recent years – with prison sentences doubling in some cases.
“While…there seems to have been a bit of a dip in some of this activity because of COVID, there’s been a bit of a spike in lawmaking,” Peter said.
Earlier this year, Western Australia introduced prison terms of two years and fines of $24,000 for farm trespassers. NSW has the toughest deterrents in the country, with fines of up to $220,000 for individuals and $440,000 for groups.

This chart shows the maximum penalties for individuals found to be trespassing on farms. In some states, bigger fines apply to those who are part of organised groups.

Chart showing fines and prison time associated with farm trespass for various Australian states

Source: SBS

Danyel said the changes in Victoria, introduced last year, are a step in the right direction.

“We absolutely need harsher penalties for people engaging in illegal behaviour…it’s the actual human impact, it’s the animal welfare impact,” she said.

So far, Sophie hasn’t been arrested for breaking the law – but she said the potential punishments haven’t deterred her.

“In fact, if I did get arrested and I did get fined, I would probably get back out there as soon as I could and keep doing it,” she said.

“Giving these animals a voice and sharing their story is just far more important to me than obeying unjust laws.”

Two activists dressed in black with their faces covered inside a caged egg farm, one holding a chicken in their arms.

A small number of activists around Australia, like this Victorian group, are secretly taking animals from farms. Source: Supplied / Farm Transparency Project

Caged eggs to be banned in Australia

With Australia poised to ban caged eggs, the welfare of farmed animals is back in the spotlight. Last year, the national animal welfare standards and guidelines for poultry were updated to endorse phasing out battery cages by 2036.
The country’s agriculture ministers recently backed the change – but states and territories are allowed to set their own timeframes.

The news has caused a furore in the egg industry. Farmers are concerned 13 years is insufficient time for a transition to cage-free eggs. However animal welfare advocates such as the RSPCA argue the ban should have come sooner.

Dozens of chickens walking around the grass outside a shed

Free range chickens are able to roam outside for a minimum of 8 hours a day. Source: AAP / Bob Gibbons / ardea.com / Mary Evans

Danyel said the change will remove choices for consumers who still wish to buy caged eggs, which are cheaper than cage-free alternatives. She has no intention of converting her farm to free range.

“It is disgusting to me that we are allowing animal rights groups to influence policy decisions…around food security,” she said.
“I guess we’ll find something else to do, which is really sad. After four generations we’ll have no farm left.”

In 2020-21, there were over five million caged hens in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. One in three hens in the egg industry is caged, with the rest in free range or barn-laid systems.

Multiple chickens inside a cage, many with feathers missing

Chickens inside a caged egg farm, photographed by Victorian animal rights activists in 2020. Source: Supplied / Farm Transparency Project

The RSPCA pointed out birds were allowed less space than an A4 piece of paper (625 square centimetres) in conventional cages.

The previous standards, in place since 2002, specified each bird must be given 550 square centimetres of space, for cages of three or more birds.
Under the new welfare standards, birds are now allocated a roomier 750 square centimetres, for cages of two or more birds.

Sophie supports the phaseout of battery cages. But it won’t stop her from taking matters into her own hands and continuing with open rescue.

A young woman crouches beside three chickens who are pecking at the ground

Sophie said she’s willing to risk being fined or going to prison for her activism. Source: SBS

She said free-range farms have their own problems – the ones she’s been to are often rife with disease.

“People think that free range means they’re off in a field, there’s heaps of space, they’re living this great life, but that’s just not the case,” Sophie explained.
“The free-range farms that I’ve been into are often worse in some senses.”

Australian Eggs, the marketing and research group for the egg industry, acknowledges on its website that greater exposure to manure-borne diseases, parasites and predators are downsides of the free-range system.

However, the ability to roam freely, socialise and exhibit natural behaviours are advantages compared to caged systems.
“All we are doing is we are taking one form of abuse and putting them into a different form of abuse,” Sophie insisted.

“What we need to be doing is just phasing out exploiting animals as a whole.”

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/article/sophie-has-secretly-taken-over-200-animals-from-farms-this-is-why-shes-risking-prison/mmzo4ahhl Sophie has secretly taken over 200 animals from farms. This is why she’s risking prison

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