Customary Cruelty in the Farm Industry: When Animal Abuse is Legal

Posted by Kelly Levenda, Staff Attorney on April 3, 2015

You would never keep your companion animal in a wire cage for her entire life, remove her tail with heated scissors, or kill her by smashing her head on the ground. But farmed animals suffer these abuses every day. Why is this conduct not illegal?


Farmed animals have very little legal protections from cruel treatment. Most state criminal anti-cruelty laws that seek to prohibit unnecessary animal suffering exempt all “customary farming practices.” These customary farming practices are not defined by the legislature, but are practices that the animal agriculture industry commonly uses when raising animals as food. This means essentially that lawmakers allow the industry to police itself, by deciding what practices are common, and therefore legal.

I studied animal science at a top agricultural science university in preparation for attending veterinary school (but I eventually attended law school to study animal law!) During my time as an undergraduate student, I experienced how agricultural science students are taught to raise animals, and I was appalled by what I learned and saw (which included many of the practices described below). I think you would also be appalled at the practices deemed common in the animal agriculture industry.

Intensive confinement of farmed animals is customary. Mother pigs are confined indefinitely in gestation and farrowing crates so small that they cannot turn around or lie down comfortably. Hens are confined in wire battery cages, where they cannot stretch or flap their wings. Calves raised for veal are kept for their whole, short, four-to-five month lives individually tied in stalls where they are unable to turn around. Animals suffer extreme mental distress and physical abuse when they are forced to live their lives in intensive confinement.


Farmed animals commonly have their bodies mutilated without being given pain-relieving drugs or anesthesia. Producers castrate male animals by slicing open their scrotum and ripping their testicles out. Cows’ and pigs’ tails and chickens’ beaks are cut off using a heated scissor-like tool. Cows and sheep have their horns removed by a hot iron, caustic chemicals, or a knife. Many farmers brand their animals for identification using a hot iron to burn an animal’s skin and cause a second or third degree burn. These bodily mutilations cause animals immense pain.

The “euthanasia” of farmed animals is routine in the animal agriculture industry. Male chicks, who are considered a waste product of the egg industry, are dumped, fully conscious, into meat grinders and piglets are killed by smashing their skulls on the ground.

Calves born to cows used by humans for their milk are dragged away from their mothers immediately after they are born. This forceful separation is traumatic and causes severe stress for both the mother and calf. Mother cows will frantically search and call for their babies.

Because these practices are commonly used by the animal agriculture industry, they are often legal in the eyes of the law. The Animal Legal Defense Fund fights for more effective laws to protect farmed animals, and to enforce the few weak laws that do exist. If you are an attorney, you can join our fight by joining the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s pro bono network. If you are a student, you can bring awareness to these issues by volunteering at a farmed animal sanctuary or implementing Meatless Mondays in your cafeteria. If you don’t support these practices, stand up for farmed animals by adopting a compassionate, plant-based diet.

37 thoughts on “Customary Cruelty in the Farm Industry: When Animal Abuse is Legal

  1. della lurusso says:

    Please stop think

  2. Debra Mucci says:

    NO animal should be abused and no abuser deserves to have their animals returned to them under any circumstances! Farm animals also deserve to live a life without pain or suffering and without abuse!

  3. Monika says:

    Please treat ALL animals with respect and don’t treat them so horribly inhumanely. It saddens and sickens me so much to hear and see the cruel practices used to raise (pigs) and kill animals for our consumption

  4. Thomas says:

    what if we were to do this to your pets or your children or even an elder in your family , how would you react then ? animal cruelty is so wrong . they have feelings just like you . so think about that the next time you hurt an animal

  5. david bishop says:

    We must stop this abuse.

  6. Sharon says:

    Just imagine if an animal had a voice. This wouldn’t happen

  7. della lurusso says:

    Please stop this

  8. Janice Dion says:

    This needs to stop.Please treat all animals humanely.

  9. pigs are intelligent beings. To confine them, burn off their tail and not kill them in a humane manner is criminal. Change these practices please!

  10. Julya Ferlsan says:

    This is so wrong yet humans still support this and turn a blind eye. Eat yourselves sun humans this is evil,No God would want tjis, Go vegan, meat is murder it’s all about $$$$$$.

  11. Anna Hall says:

    This abuse has to stop. Don’t have to be inhumain.

  12. Alice Ahern says:


  13. Cynthia Pisarcik says:

    these innocent animals deserve to be treated with love and respect. they do not deserve the cruelty they indure. we must find a way to stop this!!!!!

  14. Prescilla says:

    Hi.How can we really stop animal abuse and animal kill?All of them from sea to sky?

  15. carole pixton says:

    Animal cruelty is animal cruelty, no matter what species or for what end. Farming animals should not have to suffer during their short lives and meet with a horrific death. This needs to be made illegal and similar practices banned. The governments of the offending countries should take action. For goodness sake, what sort of society do we live in when we allow this to happen.

  16. mercedes says:

    this is outragous! No animal, species, or creature of god deserves this how would you feel to have that done to you let the public the chance to demonstrate it on you then see if you would really want that animal going through that pain you act like Hitler and demand things. Then you also will reap what you sow in do time!!!

  17. Marie Madden says:

    This madness is horrific and downright evil. I read that the FBI is now getting nvolved in animal abuse cases. If anyone can stop this sick behavior at the hands of men who are basically criminals, they can. The news media needs to be flooded with these crimes
    including CNN.

  18. Farm animals should have a right to live a life without horrible cruelty then being discarded to slaughter.

  19. Visala Fern says:

    animal cruelty must stop. torture is not acceptable

  20. Visala Fern says:

    animal cruelty is not humane, it must be made illegal!

  21. Lloyd Reed Jr says:

    There is a right way, and a wrong way to do everything. And this is definitely wrong. I believe in using animals….. the right animals for human consumption. But there is no reason thon these animals should have to go through the the physical and mental abuse they often have to go through in the process. And it’s not because it has to be done that way because I used to work on a farm where the animals were fed right. Kept in sizeable stables, coops, and pens and not a one was put through any abuse. Even when they were ready for slaughter. It was done in a quick and humane matter with no slow suffering or abuse. So I know it can be done.

  22. says:

    Terrible nothing less than a torturous life. Dome humans need this treatment see if they like to live like it.

  23. julieanne leyser says:

    Terrible, nothing in this world should be treated like this

  24. Martha Russell says:

    Evil, unacceptable and inhumane. No innocent creature deserves this

  25. john milne says:

    in this or any age no cruelty should be inflicted on any living being

  26. Carol says:

    The fact that companies continue to treat animals this way make me wonder why would anyone who knew the dispickable conditions these poor animals must exist in would eat animals? It disgusts me knowing how heartless the owners and workers are to do this on a daily basis.

  27. debbie hill says:

    Please please please get this stopped I don’t and have never eaten meat all my life . I GET VERY UPSET WHEN I LEARN OF FARMING CRUELTY. I WANT TO SEE THIS BANNED

  28. Christine kuntz says:

    please chose to apply these laws. Stop cruelty to these
    Sacred beings

  29. Brenda schmidlen says:

    It never ceases to amaze me the cruelty of the human race. These animals are the same as our dogs and cats, and deserve to be treated humanely. Please stop these terrible acts. I haven’t had neat in over 10 years for this very reason!

  30. Helen Thompson says:

    I eat meat maybe 3 times per week.
    These despicable, downright cruel and inhumane procedures in these industries sickens me.
    Every time I read of these acts becoming an eater of fruit and vegies becomes more appealing.
    Have the perpetrators of these EVIL acts no compassion?

  31. We can’t do it alone . We must have help ! A Petition should be started that’s the only thing I can think of…….

  32. manou cassel says:

    This is abuse and cruelty. No one should have to suffer like that human or animal. We all feel the pain and suffering. There is so many ways to feed ourselves without to have the death of innocents animals on our conscious. Go vegan, you will feel better in your heart and life

  33. Sandra Utsinger says:

    We need to have a respect for all living creatures. No living soul deserves to be tortured. They need to be treated humanely.What happened to our compassion towards another living breathing animal who fears pain, suffering, fear, and sadness? This is truely sad and how can we even look at ourselves in the mirror and be proud of our jobs to work at a place where they torture animals? How can you be a proud parent?

  34. A life is a life. They all feel pain, cry tears. This needs to change now!!!!!!!

  35. Christine Wilson says:

    Whether it’s legal or not, I can’t imagine being willfully cruel to any living creature. Please stop!

  36. Lisa Cassell says:

    No living, feeling being should be subjected to such horrific cruelty.

  37. Stop being cruel to animals

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