Are Farm Animals Not Considered Animals?

Monday, August 25, 2014 - 1:30pm
pig in pen

Guest blog by ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker

Yesterday, August 24, was the 48th anniversary of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), a groundbreaking law establishing minimum standards of treatment for animals… Well, some animals.

You see, while some animals used for research, as pets, or for exhibition, are considered worthy of minimal legal protection (and to be clear, the AWA protections leave lots of room for improvement), animals used for food, like farm animals, are explicitly left out. Other federal statutes, like the 28 Hour Law and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, cover livestock transportation and slaughter, but both exclude birds, and there are no federal laws at all governing the conditions in which farm animals are raised.

The big question is: why?

Do the over 9 billion animals farmed in the United States each year require less protection? No. Should we allow them to endure extreme cruelty during their lives just because they’re destined for slaughter? Certainly not.

If anything, considering how many farm animals there are and the direct link between farm conditions and food safety, farm animals require more attention, and their conditions more scrutiny. As the products of agricultural corporations, farm animals are among the most exploited and abused animals in the world.

You don’t have to look very hard to find documented cases of cruelty against farm animals or on-going practices that fit the very definition of torture, such as battery cages for egg laying hens and gestation crates for sows. In late June of 2014, Compassion Over Killing released undercover video from a poultry farm in North Carolina that showed sick and injured chickens being dumped alive into pits of carcasses, where they suffocate or expire of hunger, thirst or exposure.

Instead of working to fix these abuses, the factory farming industry uses its influence to keep them secret by trying to pass “ag-gag” laws, which prevent video or photographic documentation of farm activities.

Ironically, this anniversary comes only a week before the start of National Chicken Month, an annual September promotional exercise by the National Chicken Council to promote chicken sales and to celebrate chicken consumption, which in effect also celebrates the cruel ways we treat those very chickens.

But imagine, for a moment, a very different “National Chicken Month,” one in which we ensure chickens are not abused, exploited, or tortured. A month in which we highlight farmers who treat chickens more like the animals they are, not like the products they become.

Some states are acting on their own to institute farm animal protections, and we hope that trend spreads throughout the country and on the federal level. But even before that happens, there are things we all can do to help.

We urge concerned consumers to ask their supermarkets and the companies that supply them to think about raising chickens that can stand up and be chickens, not be pumped with unnecessary antibiotics and bred to be so absurdly huge that they fall over in their own waste. And we encourage people to sign our pledge, urging more humane industry practices.

Whether it happens on the federal, state, community, or personal level, action must be taken to safeguard the welfare of all animals, no matter what purpose they serve.

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Suz-ze Copeland

All animals should be included in the Animal Welfare Act,

JoAnn Herald

This is a bittersweet Act. ALL animals should be included in this law. We will continue to fight to make this happen.


All animals must be included in the Animal Welfare Act. Can't believe they are debating this!


It has been pretty well documented that improved animal welfare for 'production' animals such as chickens, cows/cattle, pigs, etc. improves productivity. Farmers should WANT to treat their animals well as it improves fertility, immune system, health/development of fetus and, ultimately, the quality of the end product. If the E.U. can put legislation in place on things like battery cages and gestation crates, why can't it be done in North America?


Well said, Andrew. I appreciate your wonderful viewpoint of the situation and I share in your statement.


i agree totally. we raised a few pigs for food and it was hard to send them to slaughter at our local meat processor. the only thing that made it easier for me was we treated them with care and compassion. their mother was never in a crate and only one piglet was lost to still birth or laid upon we don't know. we never gave them antibiotics unless they got sick which none ever did. unfortunately we didn't raise anymore-why because it was too hard for us to send them to the butcher at 6 to 7 months old. but i wish all pigs were raised as we did meaning they had the freedom to play and run and to lay down or stretch etc because we allowed them room to roam and play in the dirt if they wanted too.


I also agree that all animals should be protected. I can't bare the cruelties that go on in the food industries. It must stop now.


All animals feel hurt , pain, and fear and should be protected under the law just as dogs and cats are. They have such short lives as it is as they are being raised for food, so shouldn't that at least be a happy, healthy one? And they way they are slaughtered is barbaric in some places and that need to be stopped ASAP. None of them need to die in terrible pain.


I agree that all animals should be included in the Animal Welfare Act. I love animals so much.....more than most humans.. I have chickens and ducks that all have names :) , and they are the best! It is heartbreaking to know that people treat chickens, ducks, and other farm animals with such disrespect and cruelty.
Thank you for this article.


Please write to your congresspeople and demand laws to protect farm animals...long overdue...thanks for the great article!