Farmed Animals and the Law

Did you know…

  • Approximately ten billion animals (not including fish) are raised and killed annually in the United States for food?
  • There are no federal laws governing the conditions in which farmed animals are raised?
  • Waste created by the animal agriculture sector is a major source of water and air pollution, yet these intensive operations receive massive government subsidies?

Farmed animals–those raised for the meat, dairy, and egg industries–are among the most abused in the United States, in numbers that are so staggering as to be almost incomprehensible. Investigations and industry whistleblowers have discovered abuses on farms and in slaughterhouses that are so horrific, most people cannot even bear to witness them. Despite their vast numbers, and the severity of the abuses they experience, farmed animals receive only miniscule protections by our legal system today. As a result, the Animal Legal Defense Fund seeks to develop creative legal strategies that allow us to improve and expand upon current law, looking toward a day when farmed animals receive basic protections under our legal system.

Failing to Protect Farmed Animals
Excluded by most state animal cruelty laws and the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), farmed animals are particularly at risk for large-scale exploitation and abuse since the advent of factory farms, which mechanized and exponentially expanded the production of animal products at the expense of humane animal care.

The 28 hour law, enacted in 1873 and amended in 1994, covers farmed animals during transportation only. The law states that when animals are being transported for slaughter, the vehicle must stop every 28 hours and the animals must be let out for exercise, food, and water. Animals are often tightly confined and transported in extreme heat and cold, and the only requirement is that they receive a break every 28 hours. Many truck drivers do not adhere to this rule, especially when the trip is only slightly over 28 hours. The law is rarely, if ever, enforced. The United States Department of Agriculture also claims that the law does not apply to birds.

The Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act is similarly limited. Originally passed in 1958, the Act requires that livestock be stunned into unconsciousness prior to slaughter. This is usually accomplished through electrocution when dealing with pigs and captive bolt stunning for cows, goats, and sheep. The Act excludes birds, who make up more than 90 percent of the animals slaughtered for food, as well as rabbits, fish, and other animals routinely raised for human consumption. It also permits ritual slaughter in which the animal is not rendered unconscious before slaughter. Unfortunately, enforcement of this Act has been inconsistent, and animal protection organizations continue to uncover and expose pervasive and horrific violations of it.

Individual states all have their own animal cruelty statutes; however, many states have a provision to exempt standard agricultural practices–meaning farmed animals are on their own.

Farmed Animals and the Law brochureSubsidizing Abuse
Federal farm policies have encouraged the growth of factory farms, also known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, by shifting billions of dollars in environmental, health, and economic costs to taxpayers. In the past decade, tens of billions of taxpayer dollars were used to provide grain subsidies only to CAFOs–these subsidies were not available to farms that raise animals on pasture lands. Meanwhile, the externalized costs of pollution and pollution avoidance annually foisted onto taxpayers by these factory farms is in the tens of billions. And while waste created by the animal agriculture sector is a major source of water and air pollution, the agribusiness lobby has pressed repeatedly–and, occasionally, successfully–to exempt factory farms from the mandatory reporting required of other major polluting industries.

Models for Improvement?
The European Union has made some significant strides in providing legal protections for farmed animals. Gestation crates–the tiny metal crates that sows are forced to lie in while pregnant–are already banned in some countries and will be banned by the entire European Union in 2013. Additionally, the European Union was so appalled by the conditions that veal calves were kept in, it now prohibits veal crates and requires that calves be given enough room to turn around and a diet containing sufficient iron and fiber. As of 2012, the European Union has prohibited the use of battery cages, barren wire cages in which egg-laying hens are intensively confined. California’s Proposition 2 and ballot initiatives and legislative acts in other states have similarly banned some forms of intensive confinement.

England and other members of the European Union have increased the required amperages for the electrical baths that are used to stun chickens. These requirements ensure that chickens are killed by electrocution before proceeding down the slaughter line. Furthermore, European and Canadian poultry producers use air based cooling methods on their chickens to prevent the contamination found in water based cooling systems, which are used in the United States.

Norway has adopted a comprehensive Animal Welfare Act that applies to livestock, birds, rabbits, crustaceans, reptiles, salamanders, frogs, fish, and honey bees. It requires that animals be stunned prior to death and prohibits scalding, skinning, or plucking an animal before she is actually dead. Furthermore, it requires that animals be killed out of the sight of other animals.

What You Can Do

As long as the law so clearly fails to protect factory farmed animals–those slaughtered for their flesh and those who are raised for their milk and eggs–the easiest way to know you are not contributing to their abuse is by refusing to economically support these industries. Many people working to strengthen laws protecting animals also choose vegan or vegetarian diets.

Let your state legislators know that legal protections for animals are important to you. If you live in a farming community, tell your prosecutor that when anti-cruelty laws are broken on farms, you want to see the violators punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Sign the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Animal Bill of Rights at, to let your federal legislators know that all animals, including farmed animals, deserve basic legal protections that prevent the very worst abuses.

And join ALDF in our work to protect the lives and advance the interests of all animals, including farmed animals, through the legal system. ALDF files cutting-edge lawsuits to fight abuses at factory farms, works with legislators to strengthen laws protecting farmed animals, assists prosecutors handling cruelty cases, and promotes the growth of animal law in schools, offices, and courtrooms across the nation.

ALDF’s Farmed Animals and the Law brochures are available to purchase through our online store. Order them to hand out at events or to display at supporting merchants.

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