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Factory Farming Laws in the US

Farm animals have very little protection under the law in the United States. There is no federal law that provides standards for the rearing of farm animals The majority of states exempt
customary farm animal practices from the scope of their animal cruelty laws. Since factory farming is customary, little can be done in these states about lack of room for the animals to turn
around or spread their wings, or about deficient diets, de-beaking, force-feeding, castration
without anesthesia and so on. In those states with animal cruelty laws that do not specifically exempt farm animals, there is a tendency by law enforcement officers not to arrest farmers who are employing common farm practices, even when such practices are obviously cruel. The
cruelty laws are most used when animals are found dying from exposure to the elements or from lack of food and water.

The treatment of farm animals is much better in Europe. The European Union which is a group of several European countries is moving far ahead of the united states in its efforts to minimize cruelty to farm animals(see main article)

For a comprehensive look at the US farm animals' legal plight, read David Wolfson's Beyond The Law Agribusiness and the Systemic Abuse of Animals Raised for Food or Food Production.

Click on the book to buy.


Recent decades have seen remarkable reforms in farm animal welfare in Europe. Outstanding examples include European Union (EU) agreements to prohibit veal crates for calves, battery cages for laying hens, and the prolonged use of sow stalls and tethers for breeding pigs. In addition, the EU has agreed a legally binding protocol to its founding Treaty, recognising animals as sentient beings rather than just “agricultural products”.

Animal welfare is now an important public and political issue in Europe. The ripples from this humane revolution are being felt far and wide, with the international factory farm industry fearing a domino effect around the world. The USA has so far been slow to adopt measures to protect the welfare of farm animals. Attention is now focusing on the USA to respond positively to Europe’s leadership in this area.

This Report summarises the important reforms in farm animal welfare in Europe over the past 30 years. It sets out examples of the legislation enacted, and gives background details on these issues that have struck such a chord with people across the European continent.

Sow Stalls & Tethers

Sow stalls, known in the USA as ‘gestation crates’, and tethers are systems of keeping pregnant pigs in such close confinement they are unable to exercise or even turn around throughout their 16-week pregnancy. Confined sows show abnormal, repetitive behaviours, and suffer higher levels of foot injuries, lameness, pain from infected cuts and abrasions, weakened bones and muscles, urinary infections and heart problems.

Sow tethers will be prohibited in the EU by 2006, whilst the use of individual sow stalls for pregnant pigs for all but the first 4 weeks after service will be banned from 1st January 2013.

Several EU countries have already passed national legislation on a unilateral basis to ban sow stalls and tethers ahead of EU-wide bans. These include Finland, Sweden, and the UK.

Fattening Pigs

Most of the 15 million fattening pigs slaughtered each year in the UK are reared in intensive conditions in densely stocked, barren pens with little chance to forage and explore. The worst excesses are now prevented through legal minimum space allowances specified in European Union law.

Tail docking and tooth clipping (mutilations inflicted on young piglets) are no longer permitted routinely in the UK. Despite the law, however, there is evidence that tail docking is still carried out on the majority of piglets.

‘Sweat-Boxes’, whereby fattening pigs are kept so overcrowded in insulated buildings that steam rises from their urine and sweat are banned in the UK.

Veal Crates for Calves

Veal crates are narrow, solid-sided wooden boxes for rearing surplus dairy calves for slaughter. The crates are so narrow that the incarcerated calf cannot turn around for much of its life. The calves are fed an all-liquid, iron-deficient diet to produce the pale, anaemic ‘white’ veal prized by gourmets.

Veal crates were banned in the UK in 1990, and will be banned EU-wide from 2007.

Laying Hens Kept in Battery Cages

Battery cages are wire cages for egg-laying hens. They are so small that the hens cannot flap their wings, so barren they have no nest for their eggs, and so restricting that the birds’ bones often become so brittle they can snap like dry twigs. The cages may be stacked up to 9 tiers high, with as many as 90,000 birds caged in one windowless building. In the EU, about 90% of the 271 million laying hens are currently kept in battery cages.

The European Union has agreed to ban battery cages by 2012.

Forced Moulting in Laying Hens

The practice of forced moulting involves inducing hens to shed their feathers unnaturally quickly by shocking their system. This ‘shock’ can be achieved by withdrawing feed for 10-14 days and reducing lighting. After one year of production, hens will naturally stop laying whilst undergoing an annual moult. Forced moulting is carried out to make hens return to lay in as short a time as possible.

Forced moulting is widely practised in countries such as the USA and Japan. This practice results in a huge increase in stress and suffering to the hens, and a dramatic increase in mortality.

UK legislation has resulted in the abolition of the most severe aspects of forced moulting, namely any total withdrawal of food, water and lighting.

Broiler Chickens Reared for Meat

Broiler chickens reared for meat are crammed together, many thousands of birds in each barren shed. They are not caged, but kept at such high stocking densities that the birds quickly carpet the floor of the shed. Broiler chickens grow at super-fast rates, so fast that their bones, heart and lungs often cannot keep pace. About a quarter of European broiler chickens under 6 weeks old suffer painful crippling due to fast growth rates, whilst one in a hundred of these very young birds dies of heart failure.

UK Government guidelines set a maximum stocking density for broiler chickens. Whilst set too low, it is hoped that future EU legislation will alleviate the immense suffering prevalent in broiler rearing.

Feed Restriction – A Welfare Problem of the Industry’s Own Making

Farm animals such as chickens and pigs have been deliberately bred to grow bigger and faster than nature intended. If breeding stock is fed concentrated feed and allowed to eat as much as their appetite demands, they may become too heavy to breed efficiently or to stay in good health. The industry prevents this by restricting the amount of feed given to the animals.

To prevent breeding stock of these modern breeds becoming overweight, breeder chickens and pigs endure feed restriction. The food offers all the nutrients they need but only part of the food volume. They suffer permanent hunger as a result.

The welfare-friendly solution would be to reverse the trend toward fast-growing breeds of animal. The other is to feed bulkier, fibrous foods rather than concentrates.

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 prohibit the worst cruelty inflicted on broiler chicken breeding /parent stock - so-called ‘skip-a-day’ feeding, a feed restriction regime whereby birds are fed every other day or even less frequently.
Hormone Growth Promoters
The use of hormonal growth promoters has been banned in the European Union since 1988. Animals or meat produced using these substances cannot be exported into the EU.
The ban on growth promoting hormones is enacted in the UK’s Animals and Animal Products (Examination for Residues and Maximum Residue Limits) Regulations 1997. The Regulations implement the EU Council Directive 96/22/EC.
Bovine Somatotrophin
The use and marketing of the genetically engineered milk-boosting hormone, Bovine Somatotrophin (BST) in dairy cattle has been banned in the EU since 1st January 2000. BST boosts the milk production of dairy cows by 10-20%.
The sale and use of BST was banned (Council Decision 99/879/EC) because of its adverse effects on the welfare of dairy cows. BST can cause tender and long-lasting swellings at the injection site. It also causes increased incidences of mastitis, a painful udder infection.

Prohibited Mutilations

UK Regulations prohibit a wide range of livestock mutilations including hot branding and tail docking of cattle, castration of male birds by methods involving surgery, tooth grinding of sheep, and the removal of deer antlers in velvet.

Long Distance Transport of Animals in Europe

Millions of farm animals undergo transport over long distances in Europe for slaughter or further fattening. Journeys often last for 24-30 hours or more without a proper break for food, water or rest.

Complex rules exist in Europe in an attempt to control this trade and protect the welfare of the animals concerned. Whilst these are woefully inadequate, nevertheless a legislative framework exists to be improved upon.

EU rules governing animal welfare in transit are set down in Directive 91/628/EC, as amended by Directive 95/29/EC. This sets down EU-wide maximum journey times, feeding and watering intervals, and rest periods for animals. Under this legislation, for example, sheep can be transported legally on journeys lasting as long as 30 hours (with a cursory 1 hour break). EU Regulations also include provisions for enforcement such as requirements to submit detailed route plans for each authorised journey.

Livestock Markets

Livestock markets are traditional collection points where large numbers of farm animals, such as sheep, cattle, pigs and horses, are bought and sold. Markets are noisy, confusing and highly stressful places for animals. Pens are often overstocked, and the animals handled roughly, and deprived of food and water.

Public pressure in Britain has led to legislation covering the welfare of animals in markets from unloading on arrival, through to their departure. It is an offence to permit an unfit animal to be exposed to market, including those likely to give birth at the market. Persons responsible have a legal duty to make sure that injury or unnecessary suffering is not caused to animals.

The legislation also seeks to address rough handling by prohibiting lifting, dragging or inappropriate tying of an animal. The use of excessive force to control an animal is illegal. The use of sticks, whips, crops and goads is restricted. Although by no means perfect, a useful legal framework has been established.

UK Legislation to Protect Animals at the Time of Slaughter

There are laws in the UK and Europe safeguarding the welfare of animals immediately before and during slaughter in abattoirs (for food) and knacker’s yards (disposal of animals unfit for food). These laws were extended in 1995 to include slaughter in other places (e.g. on-farm) and for other reasons (e.g. disease control).
Slaughter comprises stunning, which causes unconsciousness, followed by cutting major blood vessels resulting in death as a result of rapid loss of blood.
It is a fundamental requirement that animals must not be subjected to avoidable excitement, pain or suffering before or during slaughter. Other than in specific circumstances (e.g. religious slaughter), animals must be stunned before slaughter so that they are unconscious and cannot feel pain. ‘Stunning’ is defined as “any process which causes immediate loss of consciousness which lasts until death.”
It is an absolute offence to cause or permit an animal avoidable excitement, pain or suffering. There are also specific rules on handling, stunning, slaughter or killing of animals.


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