Fight Cruelty

Legal Protections for Farm Animals

White chickens in a cage

Approximately 9 billion land animals are raised for food in the U.S. each year—the overwhelming majority of them on factory farms.

While most Americans expect our laws to protect farm animals, the reality falls far short. Animals raised for food are among the least-protected class of animals in our nation.

Federal Laws

The U.S. has no federal laws protecting farm animals while they’re actually on the farms where they are raised. Two federal laws cover farm animals during transport and slaughter, but tragically, all poultry species are excluded, making these protections inapplicable to 95% of land animals killed for food.

  • Transport: The 28-Hour Law requires that animals transported across state lines for slaughter, by means other than water or air, be unloaded every 28 hours for rest, food and water. In addition to excluding poultry, this law is riddled with loopholes.
  • Slaughter: The Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act (HMLSA) requires that livestock be quickly rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered. In addition to excluding poultry, the law 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.

State Laws

The majority of U.S. states expressly exempt farm animals, or certain farming practices, from their anti-cruelty provisions, making it nearly impossible to provide even meager protections. Exemptions usually include common agricultural practices that, while common, are often shockingly cruel.

Although some states include farm animals in at least some of their anti-cruelty laws, such laws are rarely enforced in favor of farm animals.

However, on the bright side, an increasing number of states are banning particular practices such as cruel methods of confinement and tail-docking of cows.

Visit the website of the Michigan State University College of Law Animal Legal & Historical Center to see if your state has any statues related to the treatment of farm animals.

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