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Animal Cruelty Law Exemptions in Factory Farming

December 16, 2021
Time to read: 3 minutes

In recent decades, animal welfare has become an increasingly important matter to many people, but common farming practice laws  and exemptions from federal welfare acts allow what many consider animal cruelty to exist legally for the sake of meat, dairy, and fur production. 

The Animal Welfare Act, despite its name,  provides no significant protection to farmed animals whose bodies are used for food, furs, or skins. This means animals such as cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, foxes, and mink are not protected by this law. These animals are not entitled to federal protection of humane conditions in America. Specifically, this law only covers dogs, cats, primates, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs that are the commodities of animal dealers, breeders, and used in labs. Not only does the Animal Welfare Act not cover farmed animals, but it covers no cold-blooded species or fish. Rather than protecting these animals from cruelty, the United States enables fur and factory farms to continue what are deemed “common farming practices.” A common farming practice is an action that, if it is common across farms, is thereby legal. The exemption takes no stance on whether or not the action is humane or causes suffering to  the animal. There are numerous ways in which farms utilize common farming practice laws to maximize efficiency in their operations without consideration of animal welfare. Here are some examples of a few different types of cruelty farmed animals are legally allowed to endure as common farming practices:

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  • Pigs - male piglets’ testicles and tails are hacked off shortly after birth without any use of painkillers; mother pigs are kept in gestation crates (as shown in the image) that are so tight they are unable to turn around
  • Cows - since cows only produce milk when lactating for their calves, female cows are constantly kept in a cycle of giving birth; male calves are separated at birth from their mothers and often sold as veal, put on low-iron diets that promote anemia and make it so they are unable to walk
  • Chickens - egg laying hens have their sensitive beaks chopped off without pain relief, often leaving them in pain for the rest of their lives; selective breeding forces chickens to grow so unnaturally quick they are unable to support themselves to walk
  • Turkeys - also bred to grow faster than nature intended, turkeys are allowed to suffer from leg deformities that prohibit ambulation; when slaughtered, these animals are trailed through electrified water or sometimes boiled alive

Although any of these common practices would be considered illegal animal cruelty or neglect for animals such as cats or dogs, farm animals are not protected.  Beyond what occurs to these animals when they are alive, their deaths are just as horrific, and for birds in factory farms, just as legal. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires that the animal up for slaughter be unconscious or unable to feel pain during the act. In it there are provisions for the humane slaughter of cows, pigs, horses, pigs, mules, and sheep, but just as the Animal Welfare Act does not cover farmed animals, the HMSA does not provide any protections against inhumane slaughter of chickens and other poultry such as turkeys and , which constitute 98% of animals slaughtered in America. this country. In 2018, the animal rights organization Mercy for Animals confronted the United States Department of Agriculture with 230,000 petition signatures demanding poultry be included in the protections of the HMSA, but the USDA rejected the petition. While unsuccessful in this endeavor, a study that Mercy for Animals conducted shows that three out of four people in the U.S. believe the cruel methods of slaughtering poultry should be banned, and Mercy for Animals continues to pursue other actions against this law.

Sydney Walters is a summer college intern with FFAC. She is working towards her degree in Environmental Science and minors in Wildlife and Genetics at North Carolina State University.

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