Smithfield officials ignore demonstrators of Nathan's annual hot dog contest, instead congratulate winners

Monday’s demonstration came just one day before Smithfield settled a price-fixing lawsuit, agreeing to pay out $42 million after allegedly conspiring to artificially inflate pork prices

Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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NEW YORK CITY — Demonstrators in Coney Island took to the stage of an annual hot dog eating contest in their latest attempt to shed light on cruel and inhumane practices they allege Smithfield Foods utilizes on their animals.

Top-ranked competitive eater Joey Chestnut was in the midst of eating his 17th hot dog Monday at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest when demonstrators hit the stage, one of which bumped into him.

Though demonstrators were quickly wrangled by security — one was even thrown to the ground by Chestnut, himself — their message made a brief appearance on national television.

“Expose Smithfield's Deathstar,” their signs read in a bold, high contrast font.

The phrase dates back to 2017, when Direction Action Everywhere (DxE), an animal rights group, conducted "Operation Deathstar," seeking to expose living conditions that pigs experience while awaiting slaughter at a Circle Four Farms, near Milford, Utah — a supplier to Smithfield, which operates a plant in Sioux Falls.


When asked for comment on Operation Deathstar and the demonstration, Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs for Smithfield, elected to ignore the protest in its entirety.

"We congratulate Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo on perhaps their most impressive victories yet," Monroe said.

As part of Operation Deathstar, activists Wayne Hsiung and Paul Picklesimer gained access to the farm and were able to capture footage of the living conditions.

“DxE discovered sickening conditions, including starving piglets feeding on their own mothers’ blood at Smithfield’s Circle Four Farms, one of the largest pig farms in the world,” DxE said in a video the group publicly released.

With hundreds of hogs in the video’s opening clip, the animals appear to be chewing on the metal bars of their cages in an attempt to escape. Some lay motionless in their cages while others appeared to have large, open sores on their flanks. Another clip showed dead piglets, covered in their mother’s feces, beside other living piglets who huddled together.

In a farrowing barn, a sow jumps at the touch of a piglet attempting to feed on what appears to be a bloodied and raw nipple.

“We’ve got a little baby here who is literally starving to death because her mom’s nipples are so torn up she can’t feed them milk,” one of the men says. “Like about the one-third of piglets that are born into farms like this, she’s going to die.”

The men removed one piglet, who they estimated was roughly half of the size of other piglets due to malnutrition.


Circle Four Farms, one of the largest pig farms in the world, is owned by Smithfield, who produces Nathan’s Famous hot dogs.

After DxE released their findings, Smithfield officials told the New York Times that the video seemed “highly edited and even staged,” calling it “an attempt to leverage a new technology to manufacture an animal care issue where one does not exist.”

Hsiung and Picklesimer were later arrested and charged with theft and burglary, according to a Fox News affiliate in Salt Lake City. Under Utah law, they could face up to 60 years in prison.

In 2020, Picklesimer filed a motion to force Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who is involved in the case, to disclose campaign financing information, including whether he benefited from over $10,000 in donations to the Republican Attorneys General Association in 2014 from Smithfield’s parent company, China-based Shuanghui International.

The criminal case against Hsiung and Picklesimer remains ongoing.

Monday’s demonstration came just one day before Smithfield settled a price-fixing lawsuit, agreeing to pay out $42 million to restaurants and caterers after allegedly conspiring to artificially inflate pork prices, according to the Associated Press.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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