Animal Cruelty in Agriculture 

April 23, 2021Zihao Yu


Animal cruelty or cruelty to animals is regulated in different jurisdictions including animal abuse and neglect to kill or cause unnecessary harm or suffering to animals. The activities usually include neglect, abandonment, mistreat, and cruel treatment towards animals. There are studies on the link between human and animal cruelty. Factory farming is the largest source of animal cruelty in the world, but cruelty to farm animals is always excluded from the anti-cruelty laws. According to World Animal Protection, 95% of pigs are raised on factory farms where they cannot behave naturally, and 75% of mother pigs in factory farming environments are confined in cages - the size of an average refrigerator - during pregnancy, so small that they cannot turn around. We have to admit that we still have a long way to go to protect the farmed animals from cruel practices.


What is animal cruelty?

It is illegal to treat animals cruelly in some jurisdictions. The laws prohibit the action of mistreatment, including neglect, abandonment, mutilation, maiming, and torture. The lawmakers also provide specific provisions on specific behaviors and penalties, but the rules vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 49 states in the United States, for example, have laws to provide felony penalties for animal torture on the first offense except for Lowa.


Neglect an animal is illegal in almost all states in the United States. The neglecting behaviors generally include not providing necessary food, water, and shelter, and some states require to provide veterinary care, exercise, sanitary conditions, and protection from weather for animals when the animals suffer “unnecessary or unjustified pain as a result, and only if the owners acted intentionally, recklessly, or with criminal negligence” (Wash Rev. Code § 16.52.207) For shelter, some states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, make it criminal neglect when dogs are left outdoor in extreme weather conditions. 


Torture and other cruel treatment are prohibited including deliberately poisoning animals, unnecessarily or cruelly torture, mutilation, maiming, overworking, and killing any animal. The penalties vary when the abuse is unintentional, intentional, reckless, or malicious.


Dumping or leaving animals in public places or anywhere without providing any care is regarded as abandonment, a prohibited action of animal cruelty. The abandonment rule is hard to have the enforcement except when there is a way to tracking the abandoned animals or there is a witness. Leaving animals in cars under extreme weather conditions may cause harm to animals and some states allow bystanders to break into the car and rescue animals.


Other actions such as cockfighting or dogfighting, or decorating animals with tattoos, piercings, ear-cropping or tail docking, and animal hoarding are regulated in some state laws.


On January 1, 2016, the FBI added cruelty to animals as a category in the Uniform Crime Report, a nationwide crime reporting system commonly used in homicide investigations. In 2019, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act was passed as a federal law which as the first animal cruelty law at the federal level, and the extreme animal cruelty practices such as crushing animals or creating crushing videos can be prosecuted as a federal crime according to the PACT Act.


Read more: History of Anti-Cruelty Laws and the States’ Animal Cruelty Statutes.

"File:Mulard duck being force fed corn in order to fatten its liver for foie gras production.jpg" by Credit L214 - Éthique & animaux is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Cruelty practices in agriculture

Chickens, cows, pigs, and other farm animals are among the most numerous animals subjected to cruelty, especially in the “routine procedures or animal husbandry practices” in the industrial animal farming facilities (or intensive animal farm) which cruelly harms the welfare of the farmed animals in the vast numbers of large and highly-sensitive animals every day. There are farm animal welfare issues everywhere from breeding to slaughter.


The invasive procedures which harm the farm animal welfare are as follows by species:


Besides, the high stocking density and too little space for natural movement are the most common issue of housing for farm animal welfare. This also happens in the fur farming process.

"Cow 1" by iamsch is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Anti-cruelty and agriculture

Normally, the anti-cruelty provisions only apply to the companion animals with the exception of animals used in research and animals used in agriculture. For example, in the exception of the PACT Act, this act does not apply to “A) a customary and normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice; B) the slaughter of animals for food; C) hunting, trapping, fishing, a sporting activity not otherwise prohibited by Federal law, predator control, or pest control; D) medical or scientific research; E) necessary to protect the life or property of a person; or F) performed as part of euthanizing an animal.”


At the federal level, there are the 28-Hour Law for transportation of animals and the Humane Slaughter Act. The 28-Hour Law requires to stop every 28 hours during the transporting in vehicles to allow the animals to take food, water, and exercise, but there are many exceptions to this law, and for instance, chickens and turkeys are not covered by the 28-hour law. The Humane Slaughter Act requires that animals be stunned into unconsciousness before slaughter, to minimize pain, but this act includes neither chickens nor turkeys as well.


At the state level, there are laws on farm animal confinement. The majority of these laws require that farm animals be given a certain amount of space, and others “reserve the right to make those rules either to the state legislature or to a board put into place to address those issues”. Read more on states' laws on animal confinement here.


The slaughter is also regulated in state law. Find state slaughter law here.



Animal welfare for farm animals receives less attention from the public, but the number of farm animals is large and the protection for farmed animal welfare is important and necessary. Industrial farming is a growing trend in Asian countries. The governors and lawmakers shall pay more attention to the farm animal welfare issues to avoid the merging risks of abusing farmed animals in invasive operations. The 50 state laws in the United States could be a good model for comparative study. The public shall be educated about the truth of factory farming and the cruel practices behind the curtain.

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