Animal Cruelty? The Legal Way to Abuse a Chicken

Posted by Kelly Levenda, Staff Attorney on May 7, 2015

Many were horrified to learn of the recent “unconscionable act of animal cruelty” where four killers broke into a Foster Farms facility and massacred 920 chickens by beating them to death with a golf club and other weapons. Some wondered why, even though chickens are sentient and can feel pain, fear, and stress, they do not receive constant legal protection from harm. The U.S. legal system treats animals differently depending on how humans use those animals and whether society views that use as necessary or justified. The same animal can have different legal protections based on the context in which she is being used.


The four Foster Farms perpetrators were charged with criminal animal cruelty under the California anti-cruelty law, even though the chickens were slated to be slaughtered. While this act of killing almost one thousand chickens was considered a criminal act, the systematic, and many times inhumane, slaughter of almost 10 billion chickens every year for food is legal.

Chickens are not protected by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which seeks to prevent inhumane slaughter by requiring some farmed animals to be rendered insensible to pain before they are slaughtered. During slaughter, chickens are shackled upside down on a moving rack and dragged through an electrified water bath that should stun them, but might only lead to paralysis. Because birds, including chickens, are not legally required to be slaughtered humanely, many are paralyzed but fully conscious and able to sense pain as their throats are slit. Some chickens are boiled alive by being dunked into a scalding hot tank of water to remove their feathers. (This practice is illegal, but not to protect animal welfare, only as a food safety violation.)

The slaughter of animals for food includes treatment that any reasonable person would consider cruel, but this treatment is not illegal under most criminal animal cruelty laws. Many states have expressly exempted the slaughter of animals used for food from their cruelty laws. Other states imply the exemption by only outlawing “unnecessary cruelty” to animals, in effect stating that slaughtering animals for food is “necessary” cruelty. But it’s not.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund believes all animals deserve protection, no matter the reasons for which humans use them, including animals raised for their meat, milk, or eggs. ALDF has sued a hatchery for their egregious abuse of chicks, supported California’s Prop 2, which outlawed cages for laying hens, and took an egg farm to court for abandoning 50,000 hens and allowing most to starve to death. We will keep fighting to protect all animals, including chickens, but the best way you can help is to adopt a compassionate plant-based diet.

26 thoughts on “Animal Cruelty? The Legal Way to Abuse a Chicken

  1. Gail Haas says:

    Protect thes chickens from painful deaths

  2. susan laverty says:

    Oh dear God. What have humans become
    Cold hearted and without empathy.

  3. Melissa Cowen says:

    Please keep fighting for them! We also need better methods for educating consumers.

  4. Kimberly lozzi says:

    Please stop the cruelty of animals this breaks my heart they have feelings and everyone should we as humans be compassionate for these precious babies we owe them to eat a plant based diet ♡♡♡

  5. Jhanel kies says:

    Please help chickens with humane laws that protect them from horrifying abuse in factory slaughter houses and factory farms. Chickens are sentient beings! They deserve our protection and humane caretaking. WE MUST DO BETTER BY THEM. From the time there an egg til they die… There is too much abuse and torture! THINK ABOUT WHAT AN ANIMAL HAD TO GO THROUGH BEFORE YOU PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH.

    1. Amy Schofield says:

      Please stop the cruelty. The chickens deserve a peaceful end without abuse. Make the punishment for abuse high

  6. Theresa says:


  7. Lauren Barrows says:

    This is horrific. At the very least give the chickens a humane death. I grew up a farm in Ohio in the ’50’s where our animals were treated humanely. I will carry this image & story behind it for the rest of my life. Thank you ALDF for all you do. God Bless.

  8. Sally says:

    This is SICK !!!!! How would THEY like to have this DONE TO THEM!!!!!!!!!!! Get a clue, if you arn’t being humane then you need need the same thing done to you BIG TIME!!!!

  9. cheryl says:

    you are sick human like [people who should be jailed or is this a political issue-again full B.P.P

  10. Lani says:

    Animal Legal Defense Fund; Your efforts are very much appreciated for us who adore the animals that cannot defend themselves. No animal deserves being treated anyway, but gentle and caring treatment. After seeing photos here I have never seen before, I am no longer going to eat chicken or use chicken broth. I have not eaten red meat in a couple decades now and do not miss it. Chickens and turkeys will join my boycott. Keep up the extraordinary work to free animals from pain and suffering at these produce facilities and farm. This country needs to distance itself from being a society of massive meat consumption.

    1. ALDF says:

      So glad to hear it! Here’s something to get you started:

  11. Roxana Cazares says:

    I’m appalled by the vile and sadistic behavior of employees, that it’s allowed by the meat and egg industry. The are protecting murderers, because even if this might be unfortunately legal, it’s an abomination to any intelligent and healthy society, and must be stopped and punished.

  12. Sherry O. Mace says:

    This is horrible animal abuse, and we must do what we can to draw attention to this matter, so we can help put a stop to these atrocities.

  13. DEBORAH MORGAN says:

    so very evil

  14. Vicente Amar says:

    this is real animal cruelty. What’s PETA doing about it? Cockfighting should be legalized in USA since the fighting cocks are given the fair chance to defend themselves unlike the chickens used for food being blatantly abused.

  15. anasua roy says:

    The killers should be hanged upside down and beaten with golf sticks as well slaughtering of chickens must be completely banned.

  16. kim says:

    What does it say about humans when ANY form of animal cruelty can be deemed as “legal” ??? We have become deviants without a conscience!

  17. Ellen Ritsos says:

    How in the world can you be aware of this and let it go on ? Are you monsters because what kind of person would allow any living creature to be beaten to death. This is beyond horrifying a disgrace and the world should know to stop you. What kind of company are you.

  18. Ellen Ritsos says:

    What kind of company are you. A disgrace and horrifying !! The world should know about you to stop you. Only masters allow this.

  19. BRENDA LAI says:


  20. BRENDA LAI says:


  21. Protect all animals. And do humanely humane way

  22. Nicki Jones says:

    This is absolutely disgusting, it makes me feel ashamed to be human knowing this cruelty is going on, I do not wish to eat anything that has been treated in this way, animals deserve compassion, how sick and evil some humans are

  23. Joe Omido says:

    Does the University offer an online LL.M on Animal Law?

  24. h straet laurey says:

    SICK AND EVIL those people

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