Farm Animal Welfare
Farm Animals Need Our Help
In polling, 94% of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty. Yet the majority of the nearly 10 billion land-based animals, plus countless more aquatic animals, farmed for food each year in the U.S. live in unacceptable conditions that do not align with consumers’ stated values.
“Factory farm” is a term commonly used to describe an industrial facility that raises large numbers of farm animals such as pigs, chickens or cows in intensive confinement where their movements are extremely inhibited. Animals are kept in cages or crates, or are crowded together in pens. These types of farms are sometimes referred to as concentrated or confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
- Cages and overcrowding.
- Physical alterations like teeth-clipping or tail-docking, performed without anesthetic
- Indoor confinement with poor air quality and unnatural light patterns
- Inability to engage in important natural behaviors, like laying eggs in nests or roosting at night
- Breeding for fast growth or high yields of meat, milk and eggs that compromises animal health and welfare
- Illnesses and injuries left unnoticed or untreated, often due to an unmanageable ratio of animals to workers
- Reliance on antibiotics to compensate for stressful and unsanitary conditions
- Rough or abusive handling by workers, often due to a lack of training, frustration at poor working conditions, unreasonable demands by superiors or poor design of facilities
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are alternative farming systems that treat these sentient animals with compassion and respect.
Packages of meat, eggs and dairy often bear terms that appear to indicate meaningful animal welfare standards, but only a fraction of them do. This confusion prevents consumers from voting with their wallets for better treatment of farm animals and negatively impacts the farmers who truly are raising animals using higher-welfare methods.
- Natural: Does not impact animal welfare in any way.
- Free-Range: No legal definition for use on eggs, pork, beef or dairy.
- Humanely Raised/Humanely Handled: Undefined and subjective terms without codified standards.
- Hormone-Free/No Hormones Added: Hormones are not approved by law for use on pigs or poultry, so the term is meaningless on those products.
- Cage-Free: On eggs, this label indicates that hens were not raised in battery cages. However, it is an empty claim on poultry meat as meat birds are very rarely raised in cages, and are instead crowded into large, open sheds.
- USDA Organic: This label has vague and poorly enforced regulations for animal rearing, and none at all for transport or slaughter. See here for more information.
It’s important to understand the true meanings of food labels so you can make informed decisions and help animals by buying products that match your values. Learn more in our Meat, Eggs and Dairy Label Guide. Got questions? Check out the ShopKind Helpline for immediate text message assistance and responses from actual ASPCA experts in food labels, farm animal welfare and more.
While most Americans expect our existing laws to protect farm animals, the reality falls far short. Animals raised for food are among the least-protected animals in our nation.
Although there are no federal laws protecting animals on farms, two federal laws cover farm animal transport and slaughter standards. Tragically, these two laws exempt all poultry species, which make up 95% of land animals killed for food, as well as all aquatic species.
- Transport: The 28-Hour Law requires farm animals transported across state lines—by means other than water or air—to be unloaded every 28 hours for rest, food and water. This law is weakened by loopholes, lack of enforcement and low fines for violations.
- Slaughter: The Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act requires that livestock be quickly rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered. Not only does this law exclude poultry, it also exempts certain forms of religious slaughter, such as Kosher and Halal.
Because federal law fails to protect most farm animals, state laws are these animals’ last defense. Yet the majority of U.S. states expressly exempt farm animals—or certain standard, but clearly cruel, farming practices—from their anti-cruelty provisions, making it nearly impossible to provide even meager protections. A few states include farm animals in at least some of their anti-cruelty laws, but such laws are rarely enforced.
- Ag-Gag: Over the past few years, "ag-gag," or anti-whistleblower bills, have been appearing in state legislatures across the country. While crafted to appear reasonable, these measures are designed to prevent the exposure of troubling practices at agricultural facilities. Instead of making it illegal to abuse animals, these laws make it illegal to document and report abuse.
Learn where your state stands on ag-gag.
- Confinement Bans: On the bright side, an increasing number of states are banning certain extreme methods of confinement, such as battery cages for hens and gestation crates for pigs.
Learn where your state stands on confinement.
- Right to Farm: Rather than reform destructive practices, industrial agriculture is responding by pushing "Right to Farm" (RTF) laws that greatly limit the ability of states to regulate conditions on farms, including the cruel confinement of farm animals.
Learn more about Right to Farm laws.
Bad for Animals, Bad for Us
Animals are not the only ones suffering because of these unnatural, inhumane conditions. Consumers, rural communities, farmers, workers and the environment are being hurt by the intensive farming systems employed on factory farms.
In factory farms, workers may suffer long-term exposure to hazardously polluted air and diseases such as antibiotic-resistant superbugs. In slaughterhouses, workers have reported being denied bathroom breaks and contend with dangerously fast line speeds and machinery that put them at risk for limb amputations and repetitive motion injuries. To learn more visit foodchainworkers.org.