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Whole Foods Gets Restraining Order Against Animal Rights Activists

Direct Action Everywhere says the grocer’s suppliers are guilty of animal cruelty

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Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Whole Foods, which has come under fire from protesters for everything from eggs to rabbit meat, desperately wants animal rights activists to leave it alone. The California arm of the Amazon-owned grocer sued activist group Direct Action Everywhere on Wednesday, alleging members of the group have been illegally trespassing at its stores.

According to the court filing, Direct Action Everywhere, also known as DxE, was planning a week-long occupation of Whole Foods’ Berkeley stores starting on September 23, an action that the grocery chain has now successfully thwarted: On Friday, a judge granted Whole Foods’ request for a restraining order, and members of DxE are now forbidden from stepping onto the company’s property at its 3000 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

DxE’s very public targeting of Whole Foods goes back at least three years: In 2015, the activist group released a 19-minute video featuring footage of chickens at a farm that supplied eggs to Whole Foods, alleging inhumane treatment. The video garnered major media coverage, though industry experts consulted by the New York Times did not seem to think the video footage was evidence of systemic animal cruelty.

Since then, DxE has seemingly endeavored to disrupt Whole Foods at every possible opportunity, extensively documenting its protests and posting them on YouTube. Videos show activists clad in fake blood-spattered butcher’s coats interrupting a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the grand opening of a Silicon Valley Whole Foods, confronting CEO John Mackey during an event at Stanford, and bringing TVs inside a Whole Foods store to show customers video footage of factory farm practices. In an additional 2017 investigation of a Whole Foods poultry supplier, DxE claimed that chickens being sold as “free-range” did not actually have access to the outdoors, claims that both Whole Foods and the farm rebutted.

It’s not just Whole Foods’ California stores that DxE has targeted, either: The group’s co-founder, Wayne Hsiung, was arrested for trespassing in April after allegedly trying to interview customers on film about eating meat at a Whole Foods in Boulder, Colorado. In May, Hsiung, who is a former law professor, and other members of DxE were charged with felony theft in Utah for rescuing/stealing a sick turkey from a poultry farm.

The court filing (in Northern California’s Superior Court of Alameda County) identifies Hsiung by name but says it “[does] not know the true identities” of the rest of the group, referring to them as “Does 1 through 150” (as in John Does).

In a press release distributed Thursday, DxE says the company’s acquisition by Amazon has led it to a new strategy of “crushing activists through litigation,” claiming to have obtained internal Whole Foods memos that “demonstrate the company’s intolerance of dissent.” (Amazon has previously been accused of trying to squash unionization attempts among workers, an issue that seems likely to reemerge as Whole Foods employees reportedly look to unionize.)

DxE isn’t the only activist group to take issue with Whole Foods’ animal welfare practices: In 2015 PETA sued the grocery chain, claiming that it was misleading consumers with its “humane meat”; the suit was later dismissed.

Though the group is now banned from Whole Foods in Berkeley, it intends to continue on with its planned protest in some form: A spokesperson for the group told Eater, “We may be legally restricted from being near the facility. But we will be taking some sort of action during that week and ongoing.”

Reached for comment, a Whole Foods spokesperson provided the following statement: “DxE members have repeatedly entered our stores and property to conduct demonstrations that disrupt customers and team members by blocking access to our aisles, departments, and cash registers, interfering with our business and putting the safety of both customers and team members at risk.”

Scope out the court documents, below:

Whole Foods Market California vs. Direct Action Everywhere by Eater on Scribd

Update 9/20, 1:59 p.m.. This story has been updated with a statement from Whole Foods Market.

Update 9/21, 5:47 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect the judge’s granting of a restraining order against DxE.