Farm Animal Welfare

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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 Farms

“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).

View the major sources of animal suffering on factory farms
  • 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.

Learn More about Animals on Factory Farms:
Chickens | Pigs | Cattle | Turkeys | Aquatic Animals

Food Labels

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.

View the most commonly misunderstood labels
  • 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.

Laws

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.

Federal Laws

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 animals transported across state lines for slaughter—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.

State Laws

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.

Human HealthFarms that are not properly maintained can be breeding grounds for Salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens that can be passed to humans through meat, dairy and eggs, as well as through person-to-person contact. To combat unsanitary conditions, animals are fed large doses of antibiotics—but bacteria is constantly adapting and evolving. Misuse, overuse and dependence on antibiotics in our food system creates the potential for dangerous, drug-resistant strains of bacteria to develop and spread among people and animals. To learn more, visit endindustrialmeat.org.

Rural CommunitiesFactory farms cause air and water pollution that can negatively affect the quality of life of nearby residents, including an inability to enjoy outdoor spaces, dangerous drinking water and a rapid decline in home values. Factory farms are primarily located in rural areas, and studies have shown that their health and environmental impacts can be disproportionately felt by poorer communities and people of color. To learn more visit sraproject.org.

Family FarmersCorporatized, industrial agriculture has largely wiped out America’s independent family farms—with catastrophic consequences. In 1950, there were 5.6 million farms raising 100 million farm animals. In 2017, there were 2 million farms raising 9.32 billion farm animals. Contracts between farmers and agribusiness often strip farmers of their autonomy to decide how farm animals should be raised and often trap farmers in unstable arrangements with oppressive debt. To learn more visit rafiusa.org.

WorkersFood chain workers are among the lowest-paid laborers in the United States, yet they face disproportionately high risks for injury, illness and exploitation. Workplace discrimination and wage theft are commonly reported across all sectors of food production, and shockingly, farm workers are not even covered by federal labor laws guaranteeing such basic protections as overtime pay and the right to organize.

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.


EnvironmentWaste from factory farms pollutes the water, land and air in neighboring communities, compromising both human health and environmental integrity. Additionally, these facilities consume massive quantities of finite resources, including water and fossil fuels, while releasing a number of harmful emissions. Industrial animal agriculture generates more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation combined and emits more than 400 types of toxic gas. To learn more visit foodandwaterwatch.org.