Horrific procedures are routine in the farming industry, such as veal crates, tail docking, or the worst thing in my opinion (warning: link has graphic information but no pictures).
Learning about these practices might make you wonder, shouldn’t that be illegal?
The sad reality is that farm animals have very little, if any, legal protections. Laws originally created to protect animals have been slowly whittled away over time. Existing laws have gaping loopholes and are largely unenforced. And worse, new laws threaten free speech and chill the activities of those seeking to act on behalf of the animals.
How has this happened? The food industry spends $138 million per year lobbying lawmakers. The pressure from lobbying has led the current legal framework to protect the industry more than the animals.
Federal Sources of Animal Protection
Let’s start with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). That sounds good right? America for Animals is an Animal Welfare organization after all, so the Animal Welfare Act probably protects farm animal welfare? Nope. For the purposes of the AWA, farm animals (and birds) are excluded from the definition of the word “animal.”
The AWA doesn’t apply to farm animals, but there are two federal laws that do: The 28 Hour Law and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
28 Hour Law
The 28 Hour Law applies during the transport of farm animals. It states that animals being transported across state lines for more than 28 hours must be provided with food, water, and rest.
As written this is already a weak source of protection. It only applies during transport, not during any other part of the animal’s life. It also doesn’t apply when the trip is interstate. Think about the size of California and Texas, where you could travel for days. And 28 hours is a long time. Have you ever gone more than a few hours without water? Could you go 28 hours without eating or rest?
To make things worse, the 28 Hour Law is full of exceptions. First, it doesn’t apply to chickens or turkeys, which is over 8 billion animals a year. Second, The law can be ignored when necessary to overcome “unavoidable causes that could not have been anticipated or avoided when being careful.” Third, It can be extended to 36 hours if the owner makes a request in writing to the carrier. Fourth, workers are only penalized if they “knowingly and willfully” violate the law, mere negligence doesn’t count. And lastly, the maximum penalty is only $650.
With all of those loopholes, is it possible to break the law? If it was, is it worth enforcing over $650? The answer is apparently no, as the law has not been enforced a single time in the last 50 years.
Humane Methods of Slaughter Act
The second federal law that protects farm animals is the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which requires livestock to be “insensible to pain” before being butchered. Similar to the 28 Hour Law, this law is inadequate to begin with and is then watered down with exceptions and loopholes. Following the trend, birds are excluded from the law.
HMSA is also practically unenforceable, mainly because there are no fines or penalties for violating it. Even if there were, the USDA is incredibly shorthanded and unable to oversee each worker processing 300 animals per hour.
Both of those laws only apply before the animal’s death, and neither apply to chickens and turkeys. This means there are no federal laws that protect farm animals during their lives, or chickens and turkeys at any time. The little protections that do exist are never enforced.
State Sources of Animal Protection
What about state sources for animal protection? Some state laws do protect animals, for example, 9 states ban gestation crates. While that’s certainly a good thing, most of these laws are merely a ban on a specific practice. There are no overarching laws to create a basic standard for how an animal is treated during its life.
State Anti-Cruelty Laws
Why do gestation crates need to be banned in the first place, wouldn’t that be covered by anti-cruelty laws? The answer is sadly, not anymore. State Animal Cruelty Laws were once a good source of animal protection. In the mid 1800s every state had a law banning animal cruelty for all animals, including farm animals.
But as of the early 2000s, most states have added an exception for farm animals. These are called Customary Farming Exemptions, or CFEs, and make any activity legal when “following generally accepted agricultural practices.” This means anything is ok as long as everyone’s doing it, putting the law in the hands of the industry. 3/4s of states have CFEs and most of these have been passed in the last few decades.
It Gets Worse
To make things worse, some state laws actually make it harder to protect animals by providing more protection for the industry.
The first is Ag-gag laws, which make it illegal to enter an animal facility under false pretenses or to film or take photographs on a factory farm without permission. 7 states have ag-gag laws and many more are working on it. The stated purpose of these laws is to protect the industry. “Agriculture is one of our most important industries. It’s sort of a protection mechanism,” said Senator Joe Seng (D-IA) when passing his state’s ag-gag bill.
How important are undercover investigations? Maybe acts of cruelty are rare and these investigations aren’t necessary? Nathan Runkle, founder of Mercy for Animals, would disagree: “Every investigation we have conducted has unearthed heart-wrenching cruelty to animals, and every single MFA undercover investigation, without exception, has been conduced at a facility selected completely at random.”
Next there are Animal Enterprise Terrorism Laws. The Federal Government and 39 states have these so-called ecoterrorism laws, which provide for enhanced penalties when disrupting the operations of an animal enterprise. The same crimes are punished more severely and labeled as terrorism when the target is a farm, restaurant, grocery store, or other animal-related business.
The reasoning behind these laws is to protect the food supply, but only 2 known acts of this type of food terrorism have ever occurred. One was in 1984, when a group in Oregon infected salad bars with salmonella to influence a local election. And the second was in 1996, when a resentful employee infected his coworkers’ food with shigella. There were no deaths in either case.
Like ag-gag laws, ecoterrorism laws do nothing more than create a chilling effect for those trying to protect animals.
Food Disparagement Laws
Another is food disparagement laws, or veggie libel laws, when food producers can sue individuals for damaging the reputation of their products. 13 states have veggie libel laws. A famous case of food disparagement is when Oprah Winfrey was sued for her comment on Mad Cow Disease, “It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger! I’m stopped!” Oprah was eventually successful after spending years in court and about a million dollars in legal fees.
When products like cigarettes or asbestos have been linked to disease, those companies have been found liable and ordered to pay millions in damages. Using this logic, could McDonald’s be sued for the obesity epidemic? The answer is no, because the food industry foresaw this issue and passed Common Sense Consumption laws, or Cheeseburger laws. These laws exempt food producers, promoters, and sellers from liability to a plaintiff who claims that long-term consumption of food led to obesity or obesity related disease. 26 states have Cheeseburger laws.
How Can You Help?
But there is a silver lining. Where the government falls short, non-profits step in. Third party certification groups like Global Animal Partnership, Certified Humane, and Animal Welfare Approved have created standards where none existed. These standards ensure that the animal lives the best life possible. Common standards include no cages or crates, outdoor access, enrichment activities, and no painful procedures.
This is what we mean by humanely raised. Some people have questioned how any meat could be humane when the animal is killed for our benefit. While we recognize that the only 100% humane option is vegan, we believe raising animals under third party standards is far more humane than the alternative.
You can help make these standards become the rule and not the exception. Make it your goal to only buy animal products certified by one of these 3rd party organizations (this article that tells you how), and to only eat at restaurants that serve humanely raised food by using our app.
- Animal Welfare Act, 7 USC §2132(g)(3)
- 28 Hour Law, 49 USC §80502
- Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 7 USC §1902
- Meatonomics, David Robinson Simon, 2013
- Gestation Crates: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/facts/gestation_crates.html
- Customary Farming Exceptions: https://www.animallaw.info/article/beyond-law-agribusiness-and-systemic-abuse-animals
- Ag-Gag Laws: http://www.aspca.org/fight-cruelty/advocacy-center/ag-gag-whistleblower-suppression-legislation/ag-gag-bills-state-level
- Ecoterrorism Laws: http://ccrjustice.org/learn-more/faqs/factsheet%3A-animal-enterprise-terrorism-act-%28aeta%29
- Veggie Libel Laws, http://cldc.org/2012/01/09/aeta-veggie-libel/
- Cheeseburger Laws, http://www.phaionline.org/tag/cheeseburger-bills/