Fight Cruelty

The ASPCA and Farm Animals

Red chickens amongst the grass

Since 1866, the ASPCA has worked to stop cruelty to animals involved in the food production process. In the late 1800s, ASPCA agents had their hands full inspecting New York City's stockyards and slaughterhouses, and ASPCA founder Henry Bergh exhaustively pursued legislation to ensure that animals raised for human consumption were handled humanely.

Today, as the industry has fallen out of the hands of small farmers and into the hands of large corporations, the issue of cruelty remains—and the ASPCA continues its efforts to create distress-free lives for the many animals who are raised for food.

I thought the ASPCA helped pets. Why are you getting involved with farm animals?

While the ASPCA is known widely for our work with companion animals, we believe that all animals−including those who are our companions and those raised for food−should live lives free from abuse and suffering. In fact, Henry Bergh founded the organization in 1866 partly in response to the horrors that occurred at slaughterhouses. With over 9 billion animals raised on factory farms in the U.S. each year, the ASPCA must work to improve conditions for these animals.

What is the ASPCA doing to help farm animals?

The ASPCA has a long history of working on farm animal issues, from supporting farm animal-protection legislation to providing grants for technology that will improve animals’ lives.

Recently, with the support of our members and the public, we have expanded our farm animal work, providing more resources on our website, advocating for animal-protection legislation, fighting anti-animal laws, and launching our first national consumer campaign to improve the lives of “broiler” chickens (chickens raised for their meat), among other initiatives. We are also working with farmers who are committed to improving the welfare of the animals they raise.

Where does the ASPCA stand on eating animal products?

The ASPCA believes that at every step of their lives−from birth to death−farm animals must be treated with compassion, protected from suffering, and provided with the widely recognized Five Freedoms: freedom from fear and distress; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; and freedom to express natural behaviors. This is not the case on most factory-like industrial farms (nor are the freedoms guaranteed on small or less industrialized farms).

The ASPCA believes that farm animal suffering can be reduced through both more humane farming methods and reduced consumption of animal products. The ASPCA encourages those who eat animal products to seek out products with independently certified labels backed by public standards and third-party audits of the farms. There are also uncertified farms going above and beyond the minimum conditions of conventional systems, giving their animals access to pasture, sun and space. Learn more about what questions to ask when it comes to farm animal welfare.

Here is a glimpse of the work the ASPCA has done for farm animals since our inception:


The ASPCA campaigns against swill milk, the germ-laden milk obtained from dairy cows kept in unsanitary conditions.


The ASPCA supports a newly effective federal law regulating rail transport of cattle. The law calls for a minimum five-hour rest, water and feeding period for any animal in transport for longer than 28 hours.


The ASPCA publication Our Animal Watch reprints the penal code stating the proper size of a chicken coop and the number of fowl it can legally carry.


The ASPCA starts a formal humane education program for school children.


The ASPCA inspects the 2,000 animals on exhibit at the New York World’s Fair.


ASPCA agents continue to inspect the handling of fowl in the NYC Wholesale Poultry Terminal in Long Island City, watching for overcrowded and undersized crates and ensuring that coops are gently placed, not thrown, onto loading docks.


The ASPCA grants the James Hopkins Award to Hormel for its development of a “sleep tunnel,” which sends pigs through a carbon dioxide-filled tunnel before slaughter, inducing sleep within seconds.


ASPCA General Manager Warren McSpadden publishes an introduction to a long-awaited Humane Slaughter of Food Animals Bill presented to Congress by Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. A progressive measure fails to pass, but Congress declares a watered-down policy encouraging acceptance of more humane slaughter methods.


The ASPCA grants the James Hopkins Award to the maker of the Remington Humane Stunner, which renders animals senseless without causing injury or pain.


The ASPCA is able to report on the country’s first humane slaughter law, which takes effect in 1960 and calls for slaughter that renders “animals insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective before they are shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast or cut.”


The ASPCA grants the Hopkins Award to the maker of the Thor stunner for rendering animals senseless without causing injury or pain.


The federal Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act takes effect, but does not include poultry amongst its protections.


An ASPCA-patented holding pen, which eliminates the shackling and hoisting of farm animals, is promoted.


A model holding pen to be used on steers, cows and bulls is patented by the ASPCA and offered to meat packers throughout the world, with no royalty or profit to the ASPCA. The pen, which holds animals in an upright position off the floor in conformity with federal sanitary regulations, becomes the first device appropriate for kosher slaughter and is endorsed by the Rabbinical Council of America. Prototypes of a small-animal version are later tested at the Ohio State University College of Agriculture.


The ASPCA chooses the veal calf as Animal of the Year, seeking to impress upon people that the individual choice to seek out more humanely produced foods does make a difference.


The ASPCA wins the International Film and TV Festival of New York Silver Apple Award for documenting factory farms in our 12-minute film, The Other Side of the Fence.


The ASPCA sponsors a monograph on the presence of antibiotic residues in farm animals. The writing is authored by noted authority Jim Mason.


The ASPCA co-sponsors the Farm Animal Conference at the University of Maryland.


The ASPCA supports the introduction of the Downed Animal Protection Act in Congress. The act requires that downed animals, who are too sickly and weak to board transportation vehicles, be humanely euthanized, rather than pushed, shoved, prodded and bulldozed onto vehicles. The act would prohibit the sale of these animals and force farmers to market animals who are fit for transport.


The ASPCA puts out its first issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.


ASPCA President Ed Sayres joins the board of directors for Humane Farm Animal Care; Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D., ASPCA Executive Vice President, joins the Scientific Committee of the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® program.


ASPCA gives Lifetime Achievement Award to Adele Douglass, founder of the Virginia-based nonprofit organization Humane Farm Animal Care, for her more than 25 years of advocacy for children’s and animals’ rights.


The ASPCA begins providing financial support to Humane Farm Animal Care.


The ASPCA successfully fights an overreaching amendment to the 2007 U.S. Farm Bill (Section 123 of Title I) that would have removed state and local authority to protect food safety, the environment and farm animals. If this amendment had passed, certain state-level animal welfare laws would have been in danger of being overturned.


The ASPCA, along with other animal protection groups, lobbies successfully for the passage of California's Standards for Confining Farm Animals Act (known as Prop 2). Effective 2015, the act will ban the practice of confining veal calves, breeding pigs and laying hens in cages and crates so small that they cannot turn around, lie down, stand up or fully extend their limbs.


The ASPCA, along with other animal protection groups, lobbies successfully for the passage of California Senate Bill 135 to ban the docking of dairy cows' tails in California.


The ASPCA awards a grant to the University of Pennsylvania for research on housing gestating sows outside of crates.


The ASPCA successfully lobbies the President's Office of Management and Budget to approve new USDA-issued regulations to better enforce the requirement that organic milk cows be allowed to graze in pastures.


The ASPCA and our Advocacy Brigade urge Congress to pass the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act (H.R. 4733), which unfortunately did not pass.


The ASPCA supports California Assembly Bill 1437, which requires that by 2015, all whole eggs sold in California come from farms that meet higher welfare standards for housing laying hens.


The ASPCA supports Washingtonians for Humane Farms and Oregonians for Humane Farms, groups working to ban the extreme confinement of egg-laying hens via statewide ballot measures.


The ASPCA helps defeat two Maryland bills that would have placed control over the welfare standards of the state’s livestock with a new Livestock and Poultry Care Advisory Board. The board would not have been required to accept input by citizens, animal control experts or even the Maryland General Assembly when deciding how animals should be treated.


Thanks in part to strong opposition from the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, Florida, Iowa, New York and Minnesota all fail to pass their “ag-gag” bills.


The ASPCA lobbies for the federal Egg Product Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798/S. 3239). This watershed legislation would secure better living conditions for egg-laying hens—including more space, nest boxes, perches and healthier air quality—as well as mandate truthful labeling of egg cartons.


The ASPCA awards a grant to the University of Pennsylvania for research on methods to house farrowing sows outside of crates.


The ASPCA awards a grant to Farm Forward to construct a barn for Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, a Kansas cooperative that raises heritage-breed chickens and turkeys on pasture.


The ASPCA helps pass a Tennessee bill making certain forms of livestock cruelty felony-level crimes.


The ASPCA, along with other animal protection groups, defeats “ag-gag” bills in Florida,Illinois, Tennessee, New York and Minnesota.


The ASPCA delivers written and oral recommendations to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board for higher animal welfare protocols for turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese.


In Rhode Island, the ASPCA, along with other animal protection groups, lobbies successfully for the passage of state legislation to ban the docking of dairy cows’ tails as well as the use of gestation crates and veal crates.


The ASPCA and our Advocacy Brigade supporters help defeat “ag-gag” bills in Arkansas, California, Indiana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming.


The ASPCA helps pass a law in Illinois that provides humane options for farm animals running at large, giving them a chance to be adopted or, if the animals are in poor health, allowing for them to be humanely euthanized.


In Colorado the ASPCA helped defeat a bill that would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to seize farm animals in cruelty cases by requiring a veterinarian to first state that the animal victim is “near death.”