Farmed Animals in the United States and Asia

November 23, 2020Lu Shegay


Animals are part of our everyday life, the environment, and the ecosystem, whether as companion animals, wild animals kept in captivity, farmed animals, aquatic animals, etc. Farmed animals are part of most people’s lives because they are raised for commercial purposes, i.e, human consumption. However, the conduct inside the factory farms is not exposed to the public and there is not so much information known how farmed animals are treated there. There are approximately 7.7 billion people on Earth, and the majority of it consumes animal products every day. For some countries, meat is considered sacred and is a part of the culture. However, every day farmed animals are cruelly treated and abused in factory farms.

Meat production is one of the leading and widespread businesses all over the world. For the past 50 years, Asia has been the largest meat producer in the world. In the 1960s, Europe (42%) and North America were leading in the meat production business, while Asia produced just 12%. Globally, poultry, cattle, pig, and in some cases sheep and goats are the most produced types of meat, where beef and poultry remain the leading meat production in the world. For the past 50 years, the production of cattle meat increased from 28 million tonnes to 68 million tonnes per year. Currently, the United States is the world’s largest beef and buffalo meat producer, followed by Brazil, China, Argentina, Australia, and India. Poultry production in the world is led by the United States, China, and Brazil. As for pigmeat, China remains the dominant producer, in which production counted 1.5 million tonnes in the 1960s and increased to 54 million tonnes in 2014. In 2018, approximately 69 billion chickens, 1.5 billion pigs, 656 million turkeys, 574 million sheep, 479 million goats, and 302 million cattle were killed for meat production.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)

Before shifting to the comparative analysis of legal protection of farmed animals in the United States and Asia, it is necessary to address the concept and system of the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), which exist in most countries – might be called differently in some places – but in the United States, it was defined as such by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). CAFO is an intensive animal feeding operation, where over a thousand animal units are confined for commercial purposes, and they usually consist of approximately 1000 cows, 700 cows used for dairy purposes, 2500 pigs, 125 000 chickens, 82 000 of them are egg-laying hens. CAFOs are usually compared to the Nazi concentration camps because of the huge number of animals kept together where they are not able to perform their natural behavior. The main difference between CAFOs and other methods of raising livestock is the high-density confinement of livestock of the former, grain-based diet, which deprives animals of seeking their food by themselves naturally. CAFOs are not open to the public and one can only guess what’s happening inside those large factory farms. Fortunately, some animal law organizations had an opportunity to get into the factory farms with the purpose of exposing the truth to the public. (See ALDF v. Herbert, ALDF v. Wasden)

Impact on Animals, the Environment, Public Health and Safety

The operation of CAFOs certainly creates a huge impact on the environment, public health and safety, and animals themselves, and here is why. Due to the confinement of animals in a small place, CAFOs have a lot of waste, such as manure, feces, urine, and this poses a huge threat to the environment and public health and safety. Waste from agricultural facilities has always presented a risk to water quality. The United States Environmental Protection Agency provided that states with high concentrations of CAFOs face on average 20 to 30 problems with water quality every year due to waste management. Waste from the CAFOs includes a lot of harmful pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, organic matter, solids, ammonia, pathogens, etc. Moreover, CAFOs create a great impact on air and water quality because of producing air emissions, gaseous and particulate substances. All those factors altogether also cause health effects on factory farm workers and schools nearby that could lead to an increase in getting asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive airway diseases, and interstitial lung disease.

Animals raised for commercial purposes are kept in tiny enclosures with insufficient space, air, light, and generally in unacceptable and detrimental for animals conditions. Animals in factory farms suffer from cruel treatment and abuse because of various conducts that are considered customary husbandry practices. Anti-cruelty statutes, however, do not apply to farmed animals and many of the animal welfare acts do not cover birds, aquatic animals, and/or farmed animals. For instance, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) of the United States provides that the definition of an animal excludes “birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research,” “horses not used for research purposes,” and “other farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry, used or intended for use as food or fiber, or livestock or poultry used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber.” Although cruelty to animals is one of the widespread practices all over the world, it is generally associated with domestic animals, while in reality, cruel treatment of animals occurs in many other places and towards many other categories of animals, including farmed animals. A lot of statutes on the state level in the United States cover some farmed animals, such as fowl, but there are always exceptions that emphasize that the certain statute does not apply to customary or “normal” husbandry practices. These include debeaking, tail docking, forced molting, castration, gestation crates, etc.

Ag-Gag Laws in the United States

One may only guess what is actually happening inside factory farms and slaughterhouses since they are not open to the public. One of the legal sources that protect the owners of factory farms is the ag-gag law, otherwise known as anti-whistleblower law, which prohibits filming and photography of the activity of factory farms inside. There is a lot of critiques that ag-gag laws violate the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, however, the law allows hiding animal abuse and other information from the public. A lot of animal protection organizations strive to challenge ag-gag laws on the state level. For example, ag-gag laws in Idaho, Iowa, and Utah have been ruled unconstitutional. Currently, those laws in Arkansas and Kansas are being challenged. This year, in the case of PETA et al v. Stein, the judge struck four subsections of the Property Protection Act in North Carolina, stating that “the law is declared unconstitutional as applied to them in their exercise of speech.” Among plaintiffs, apart from PETA, there were ALDF, Center for Food Safety, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, Farm Forward, ASPCA, and Government Accountability Project.

Animals in Agriculture in Asia

Asia has the fastest growing economy in the world and agriculture is the main type of business conducted there. Agribusiness is considered more intensive than on any other continent in the world, thus the protection of farmed animals is not strong.

For instance, in Indonesia, the government takes the activity of livestock farming seriously to prevent the outbreak of various diseases. It is required to obtain a license to open a slaughterhouse and other activities. Article 19 of Law 18 states that any person who rears animals must ensure that their animals are sufficiently fed and that the conditions meet animals’ health. The Law also requires farmers, husbandry companies engaged in the business of rearing animals to have a special permit to operate certain activities and to comply with the “good culture procedure of rearing animals” without violating any public orders according to the guidance issued by the Minister.

In Vietnam, the country enacted the Law on Animal Husbandry, which prohibits the ill-treatment of livestock in rearing, slaughter, transport, and scientific research. A person is obliged to provide sustainable care, such as sufficient food and water. This Law also regulates the issues concerning farmed animals stating that the “humanitarian treatment of livestock must respect and be in harmony with traditional beliefs, religions, and traditional cultures and be accepted by the social community.” But there is a lack of specific regulation with regard to rearing pigs, broiler chickens, egg-laying hens, and dairy cattle.

Usually, cruelty to animals does not apply to the farmed animals, but in Thailand, they are legally protected by Sections 381, 382 of the Criminal Code and by the 2014 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Provision of Animal Welfare Act. However, the Act does not address the concept of humane slaughter, transportation, and conditions of husbandry.

In mainland China, there is no animal welfare law for farmed animals. However, there are Animal Husbandry Law, Food Safety Law, Agricultural Product Quality Safety Law, Animal Epidemic Prevention Law, Entry and Exit Animal and Plant Quarantine Inspection Law, which aim to improve the agricultural production efficiency, maintain the quality of the production, and ensure public health.

The Animals and Birds Act in Singapore governs the regulation on the importation, transshipment, the exportation of animals and birds; animal welfare and prevention of cruelty to animals; control of livestock; etc. Singapore is one of the few countries in Asia that includes birds in its animal welfare law. Involvement in cockfighting is also criminalized in the country.

In the big region of South Asia, Bangladesh prohibits the conduct of cow blowing.

Bhutan enacted the Livestock Act that provides the welfare provisions, protects livestock from unnecessary suffering or injury, and requires attention to animals’ health and welfare.

Similarly, in Nepal, there are the Animal Health and Livestock Service Act, the Animal Slaughterhouse and Meat Inspection Act, etc. The Penal Code prohibits reckless conduct with respect to animals and birds, bestiality, and any offenses related to animals and birds.

Sri Lanka regulates the conduct of slaughter and removal of animals, branding of cattle in its Animal Act. In 2020, the country also banned cow slaughter.

As was mentioned above, some countries have established legal protection for farmed animals, but some countries have not enacted any protection for them like Central Asia or "so-called" ‘Stan countries. Another issue in protecting farmed animals from abuse and cruel treatment is the enforcement of those regulations. Growing agricultural production is not the only issue in Asia and within a certain country, but it also affects other countries in the world leading to trade. For instance, in Central Asia, birds are kept in confinement inside the country, while cattle meat is either slaughtered due to religious beliefs or imported from other countries.


Agribusiness using animals in confinement hugely affects the environment and public health additionally destroyed by human activities. In the present time, a lot of non-meat products have been invented and sold that are supported by many famous businesses, which allow vegetarians and vegans to enjoy such common food as hamburgers, sausages, sandwiches, etc. Other foods containing proteins have existed for a long period of time, such as tempeh, tofu, seitan that are commonly used in Asian cuisines. Plant-based meat is made out of plants - usually, it is soy protein, chickpea, mushrooms - and plant-based food production does not require keeping animals in the slaughterhouses or raising them for commercial purposes along with the cruelty that is done on them and pollution of the environment. Plant-based products - not only meat - but also milk and eggs are available in grocery stores or online sources. 

Every day animals in agriculture are killed for food consumption around the globe. Unfortunately, they are not treated humanely and animals suffer before they are slaughtered. Animals kept in confinement and raised for commercial purposes can barely move, birds are not capable of extending their wings, and none of the animals are able to turn around, lie down, and express their natural behavior. Discussing the legal personhood for animals is generally confused by a lot of people that animal rights activists want to grant the same rights to animals as humans possess. But if one argues about the legal personhood, would the right to life be able to be the first and main right that can be given to animals who are also living beings? The future is close, and living in such a developed world with so many innovations gives humans an opportunity to change not only their own lives but also the lives of others.

To learn more about the protection of farmed animals in other countries see our Projects.

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