Legally Brief: The Fate of Animal Cruelty in U.S. Agricultural Bills

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF's Executive Director on June 21, 2013

Farmed animals have shockingly few legal protections from abuse. There are no federal laws protecting farmed animals while they are raised and many state laws have been modified to exempt farmed animals from animal cruelty statutes as well, leaving their treatment entirely “beyond the law.”

To that end, this past week has seen a flurry of activity on U.S. Agricultural bills affecting animal welfare.  To recap, on Tuesday the House Rules Committee refused to allow several animal-related amendments to be considered with the U.S. Farm Bill.  Two of those amendments addressed horse welfare: one instituting an outright federal ban on the slaughter and transportation of horses for human consumption; the other requiring the USDA to train & license inspectors to identify horse soring, the practice of creating painful sores on a horse’s legs or hooves to cause an artificial, exaggerated gait for show.  However, the primary amendment supported by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other animal advocates, was to remove potentially disastrous language from the Farm Bill that could have prevented states from setting their own animal welfare & food safety standards.  That bi-partisan amendment proposed by Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) further would have replaced the draconian “King Amendment” language with common-sense standards to improve the treatment and wellbeing of egg-laying hens.

It is hard to overstate the devastating potential of Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) Farm Bill language (you may remember King from his outrageous diatribe defending dogfighters).

The “King Amendment” would have forbidden states from applying safety & welfare regulations to any “agricultural products” from out of state, including animals raised for food, eggs, milk and even puppies and kittens sold to pet stores.  This would have nullified many of the hard-fought victories won by animal advocates to protect calves, hens, pregnant sows, and other animals, such as California’s foie gras ban, its passage of the historic Proposition 2, as well as state laws cracking down on puppy mills, banning horsemeat and even dog meat sales . . . all could all have been eliminated by the current U.S. Farm Bill containing the King Amendment.  Outside the animal realm, the “King Amendment” also would scale back child nutritional requirements.

Ultimately, however, the House of Representatives was unable to pass its own bill (just like last year) and the Farm Bill died on the House floor today.  Although there were some positive elements in the House Farm Bill to increase penalties for spectating at dog fights, and although the King language might not have survived the conference with the Senate, we all now can regroup and prepare to advocate effectively for positive changes to the Farm Bill when Congress starts the process over again next year.

But the Farm Bill wasn’t the only news today…we still made positive progress when the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to restore the ban on federal funding for inspections of horse slaughter plants––a key provision that has kept new slaughterhouses from opening.  The previous ban was about to expire and several applications already had been submitted for new horse slaughter facilities.  Since the House Ag Appropriations Committee passed a similar amendment last week, this vital protection for American horses most likely will be preserved in the law.

Across the nation, voters are succeeding in demanding stronger animal protection laws––Michigan law now bans veal crates to protect baby cows, California law bans battery cages for hens, gestation crates for pregnant pigs and veal crates, and Florida and Arizona laws likewise ban gestation crates. However, there still is much work to do.  More than nine billion animals are slaughtered in the U.S. every year, most having spent their entire lives on factory farms in unimaginably filthy and agonizing conditions. That’s why the work Animal Legal Defense Fund does is so crucial to ensure protections for farmed animals. We know from experience we can’t rely on corporate goodwill. There will always be those who put profit above the cost of suffering––as we find with the dangerous feed additive ractopamine or the catastrophic creation of drug-resistant “superbugs” on factory farms.  ALDF will continue to push for laws that protect farmed animals and assure the enforcement of the laws that do exist.

26 thoughts on “Legally Brief: The Fate of Animal Cruelty in U.S. Agricultural Bills

  1. Gina Powell says:

    Thanks so much for providing us with a synopsis of the Farm Bill that was killed this week. I will never understand a person like Republican Steve King whom, essentially, attempted to “legalize”
    the pain and suffering of millions of animals. However, constituents speak through their elected reps so this is a reflection of the people in IA, and how they think. I like to think that Americans choose compassion when faced with a decision. However, the attempt to push through a bill that endorses animal abuse should make us all realize how crucial the work of ALDF is. Thanks for your compassion, and commitment.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Gina. The reason ALDF is focused on the law, is because there are people like Rep. King in the world, who will put economics and convenience above any consideration of animals’ interests.

      1. Nancy Byron says:

        Keep fighting the good fight guys. I sign and share everything that coes across my inbox and timeline and sleep better knowing that guys are in the ring! xo

      2. Barb Navoro says:

        Agree 100%

  2. Jennifer Roth says:

    Thank you for all the work you do and for standing up for those with no voice. I too cannot understand the depth of sickness of a person such as Republican Steve King who would defend dog fighting and try to perpetuate the anguish of so many animals. Very sad that peope have such evil within them.

    1. Thanks for your support, Jennifer. I can’t fathom people or lawmakers like Steve King either. But rest assured we will continue to stand up to them.

    2. Barb Navoro says:

      Agree!! I’m doing this same thing .I always be the voice for the animals !!!

  3. Rob Joros says:

    This is awful. No rights for an industry that is known for horrific abuse. These poor animals and I’m ashamed of everyone who turns their back on this suffering. Rep. Steve king shows that we cannot evolve as a species and do the right thing. My god people….right is right and wrong is wrong. These animals feel
    Pain ,cold, heat ,lose and remorse as we do except they cannot cry out. I’m soo sad…….

  4. Mr. Whiskas says:

    King is the kind of politician who would usually decry the ‘overreaching federal government’ and praise ‘state’s rights’ and yet turns around and demands federalization of animal agriculture. For shame. Bravo to ADLF for standing up to this.

    1. Jonathon Culver says:

      I agree with you and commend your putting this hypocrisy in writing in such a completely understandable way (and in very few words).

  5. Cindy Guarnieri says:

    Mr. Stephen Wells, thank you for all you do to help animals live better lives. I agree that much more work still needs to be done regarding animal abuse and neglect in general, but just as important are farm animals and the abuse and suffering and torture they endure from big agri-business every day. Baby calves taken away from their mothers are dragged and left to die on the ground alone. Pigs natural roaming instincts are taken away and they are kept in tiny crates. Horses are stabbed, dragged and slaughtered for food consumption in Mexico and Canada. It’s enough to make me scream and cry at the same time. Anyone who could watch dog fights is a despicable human being. Please keep working hard at ending all this evil. We must make people understand that all animals, whether domestic or wild, feel pain and suffering and loneliness, just like people do. We must put the uncaring people who do this to animals pay for the crime they are committing on another living being.

  6. Lisa, Animal Lover! says:

    What have these poor innocent animals ever done to us to deserve this kind of treatment? We are supposed to be the superior being here but we sure as hell do not act like it when we humans do things like this to innocent animals. People who torture other sentient beings, is a monster, an enormous dreadful beast. What is wrong with us? Does it make us feel powerful and almighty to inflict pain and suffering to another living being that cannot defend themselves against such an evil creature as the human? It’s disgraceful that we harm and torture innocent sentient beings. This is nothing to be proud of, it’s shameful and embarrassing. Any human that can inflict so much pain on another living being is a LOSER and PATHETIC SOB! They’re a failure to humanity and the same thing should be done to them as they have done, it’s only fair. They need to understand what it feels like to be alone with no one to help them while they’re being tortured and in excruciating pain. How the hell would they like it? Then, you know what maybe the same thing should be done to Rep. Steve King, then maybe he would understand better what these poor innocent animals are going through all at the hands of a human. I’m ashamed to be part of race that is so greedy and evil.

    1. mary steers says:

      Lisa…I feel exactly the same as you do. I am so ashamed to be part of this so called human race…so disgusted and cry all the time thinking that every minute of every day these poor animals who have not done ONE thing to anybody are treated this way. I find myself putting myself in their position and can actually feel their pain and want to scream at the top of my lungs and go after these no good monsters that are doing these things but our hands are tied. it is the most frustrating thing in the world to know this is happening and how it can happpen is beyond me..who could do these things and then live with themselves..excuse the misspelling but I get like that as I am so so mad and frustrated. What are we going to do???? I sign everything that comes my way, give money, write to senators etc. yet this abuse continues as I know I certainly am not the only one doing this…thank God for other people too but nothing works as the money these monsters make is more important to them than a life.

  7. Joy Metz says:

    These are the morons we put in office people. This is what is happening in our culture now, anything to make a dollar. Imagine eating horse meat, you would think that there was nothing else on the planet to eat. Yet, there are people in Europe that find horse meat delectable. So for this we will open slaughter houses to package horse meat to ship to Europe. All to put people back to work. How about maybe putting the work into the roads, bridges, schools, etc.

    This how these people that we put in office sell us on these horrendous ideas, justifying it by saying this will put people to.
    Well to that folks , I will just keep “hounding” these people into thinking again about finding other ways go find work for the American People. And maybe next time we should think about who we put in office.

    Now I will get off my soap box, thanks for listening.

  8. Cheryl F. says:

    I think we can be assured the “Kings of the world” will be back again. This is a constant battle. I think the fact that general public is prevented from seeing what really goes on in factory farming as a result of self-interested big agriculture gag laws, make it doubly hard.

  9. Ann Rigano says:

    Thanks to groups like yours that stand up for these innocent animals. I cannot tolerate any more abuse of any type of animal, whether domestic or farm. And it is horrible to know that a representative of the people of this country would be so insensitive… it is absurd.

  10. Deborah DOdorico says:

    The American people certainly do not need the likes of king. He is obviously a people pleaser…which we do not need the likes of. State the truth….the people need to see and hear the way it is. So much deception has to eventually come to a head. OUR ANIMALS NEED OUR PROTECTION FROM THE LIKES OF KING. WE CARE, WE WILL NOT GO AWAY, WE WILL NO LONGER BE SILENT.

  11. Leslie Davis says:

    Thank you for your work and for sharing it and the results. I often feel helpless in the face of the gross inhumanity endemic to all animals and particularly to those farmed souls who are born into a hellish existence and die a worse death. I fault the lobbyists who pull the strings of such weak individuals as Rep. King. I think that it is too common in our political society that what we see and hear from our “elected” representatives is bought and paid for by special interest groups. I hope I am around when “BIG ANIMAL RIGHTS” takes the place of “BIG AGRA”and “BIG OIL”, etc.. Your work is critical and significant and I thank you and your staff.

  12. Shirley Cofresi says:

    The most frustrating of all is that one stroke of a pen in Washington can undermine years of advocacy for the protection of all animals. I live what I preach, and have quit purchasing meat products (many years now) and refuse to purchase anything gm. We are not only fighting factory farms, but also gag orders enacted by some states to silence advocacy: films of abuse, etc., and still we continue telling the world about the horrific abuses ALL animals suffer at the hands of big ag, horse round-ups by the BLM,horse slaughterhouses, puppy mills, dog fighting, and countless others cruelties forced on innocent animals. Please, keep working diligently to enact protection laws.
    I thank you all.

  13. Elizabeth Lanson says:

    I wonder how Mr. Steven King would feel if were confined in a crate and tortured, starved, taken away from his loved ones, etc. Karma is real. His actions today will be judged tommorow, if not in this world, in the next.

  14. Elizabeth Lanson says:

    SHAME ON YOU MR. STEVEN KING. What you do today will be judged tommorow, and you will have to answer for your actions if not in this world, in the next.

  15. Dennis Dawkins says:

    You know it’s been a year now, nobody wont to talk, on my case i was ask,by superviser to kill a animal on job,i refuses to do that,cause me my job where is my,dont wont them to forget,i have faxs,am right, thanks for help,Denni8s.

  16. Rita says:


  17. Bernice Reynolds says:

    There’s a special place waiting for people like Mr.King. My only regret is that I won’t be able to see him suffer before he gets there.

  18. suzy pearson says:

    he is talking about dog fighting & human fighting….sorry Jack, the animals have NO voice in the matter & the humans DO, so NOW WHAT!!!

  19. Debra Leddon says:

    Thank you for the synopsis of the farm bill ruling. I am involved each day to help out, like many others, via petitions, donations. I do want to say that the war against legalized animal suffering and deliberate cruelty can be accelerated by urging and educating others to choose vegetarianism/vegan lifestyles. And, since it will not be the case that many can become vegetarians, alerting them to make choices on reduced meat intake from responsibly/humanely farmed animals will certainly drive these industries out of business.

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