CRS Report for Congress
of Farm Animals:
Overview and Selected Issues
Geoffrey S. Becker
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
December 6, 1995
Congressional Research S e ~ i c eC n e Libmy of Congress
Humane Treatment of Farm Animals:
Overview and Selected Issues
Animal protection activists in the United States are seeking modifications
(or even curtailment) of many practices long considered acceptable and necessary
to animal agriculture. Examples include rearing large numbers of livestock and
poultry in close confinement; performing surgery such as tail-docking or beaktrimming; housing layer hens in cages; and isolating veal calves in crates.
Currently, no Federal law prescribes standards for on-farm handling and
care of animals, although two statutes do address the humane transport and
slaughter of livestock. A11 States have anti-cruelty laws, which can--but do not
always--cover farm animals, Many States regulate the transport and slaughter
of farm animals, but few if any address on-farm activities.
Recent surveys suggest that most people (and many animal protection
groups) still support agricultural uses of animals but many also appear to
support at least some Government regulation to insure humane treatment.
Producers maintain that they understand their animals' welfare needs and
address them. They express concern that efforts by poorly informed critics could
lead to the imposition of mandatory regulations harmful to producers and
animals alike. Support for science, education, and voluntary guidelines are more
effective ways of assuring animal welfare, they believe.
But many animal protection groups contend that producer efforts fall short,
in part because today's intensive farming systems perpetuate standard practices
that are harmful to animals' well-being. More controversial animal "rights"
groups believe man has no right to use animals for any purpose.
Conventional agricultural interests have always deployed strong scientific
and economic arguments in defense of their industry. However, the 98 percent
of the population no longer residing on farms holds an extremely wide range of
moral and religious beliefs about man's relationship with other animals--which
ultimately could carry more weight in future policy decisions than traditional
economic and scientific arguments.
EUROPEANPRACTICES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST ANIMAL AGRICULTURE . . . . . . . . 6
On-Farm Practices a t Issue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Related Animal Agriculture Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Economic and Social Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Environmental and Resource Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Biotechnology Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Human Nutrition Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Off-farmHandling Practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
EXISTING FEDERAL AND STATE LAWS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
FederalLaws . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Agricultural Animal Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
AnimalWelfareAct . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Humane Slaughter Act . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Twenty-Eight Hour Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
StateLaws . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
SELECTED LEGISLATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Downed Animals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Poultry Slaughter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Veal Calf Production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Horse Transportation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Humane Treatment of Farm Animals:
Overview and Selected Issues
Animal products are an important part both of the American diet and U.S.
agriculture. They contribute about three-quarters of the protein and one-third
of the food energy in the U S , diet. Of the $510 billion that US. consumers
spent on all domestically produced foods in 1994, nearly half was for meat,
poultry, eggs, and dairy products. US. farmers and ranchers received $88 billion
in 1994 from the sale of animal products, approximately half the value of all
agricultural products marketed, accordingto the U.S. Department ofAgriculture
(USDA). Crops used for feed brought another $25 billion to $30 b i l l i ~ n . ~
However, the livestock and poultry industries' relationship with the
consuming public is changing. Producers today are being asked to respond not
only to the traditional market signals of price and quality, but also to newer
preferences about how food is produced.
One such concern is how animals are treated--an issue viewed by many
traditional agricultural interests as the most controversial and, potentially, the
most disruptive economically. Animal activists are seeking modifications (or
even curtailment) of practices long considered acceptable and necessary to
animal agriculture but which they consider inhumane.= Examples include
rearing large numbers of cattle, hogs, and chickens in close confinement;
performing surgical procedures such as castration, tail-docking, or beaktrimming; housing layer hens in cages; and isolating veal calves in crates.
h he author wishes to thank Janice Swanson, formerly of the US.D e m m e n t of
Agriculture's Animal Welfare Information Center and now with Kansas State University,
for her valuable assistance.
Wm. Ray, "The Benefits and Costs of Animal Agriculture," from Science
and Animals: Addressing Contemporary Issues, a conference held by the Scientists
June 22-25, 1988; with updated data from
Center for Animal Welfare, Washington, D.C.,
U S . Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service (ERS), various
S ~ hterms
"animal a c t i v i s t k d "animal protectionist" generally are used here to
characterize any group outside of traditional agriculture that would support more
aggressive efforts, including but not necessarily limited to Government intervention, to
insure the well-being of farm animals. It is not intended to infer that producers and
others involved in animal agriculture are not also concerned about animals' well-being.
No Federal law prescribes standards for on-farm handling and care of
animals, although two statutes do address the humane transport and slaughter
of livestock. Most States have their own anti-cruelty laws, which often--but not
always--cover farm animals. A number regulate the transport and slaughter of
animals, but virtually none sets rules regarding on-farm activities.
By contrast, several European countries have adopted more extensive farm
animal treatment reg~lations.~
In England, for example, Ruth Harrison's 1964
book Animal Machines and a 1965 government report (by the so-called Brambell
Committee) eventually led to a series of government actions. These include the
creation of a 28member Farm Animal Welfare Council to advise the Minister
of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food; a 1968 law making it illegal to cause an
animal "unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress"; a series of codes of practice
for each species enforced by the state veterinary service; and a ban on housing
veal calves in crates.
The Swedish parliament in 1988 enacted a law requiring, among other
things, that cattle in sheds be able to go outdoors to graze; a 10-year phaseout
of so-called '%attery cages" for laying hens; an end to tethering sows; standards
for bedding for cows and pigs; a humane slaughter mandate; and more authority
to regulate genetic engineering and other animal production technologies.
Switzerland has ended the use of battery cages for laying hens, requires
bedding and exercise for pigs, regulates veal calves' diets, and sets certain
environmental standards for animals. Norway, Denmark, and The Netherlands
also have required some changes in animal production methods.
A series of initiatives by the 25-nation Council of Europe and the European
Union (EU), have helped to foster these country actions. The Council's March
10,1976, European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming
Purposes provided a set of principles on farm animal welfare. EU directives are
in force on humane slaughter procedures, size requirements for laying hen cages,
and minimum standards for the housing and/or feeding of calves and pigs.
Although binding with regard to objective, an EU directive is implemented
independently by each member country.
*Sourcesinclude: Baumgartner, Gerhard, "TheInternational (European)Perspective
on the Impacts of the Animal Welfare Movement,"presented at the Fwd Animal WellBeing Conference and Workshop in Indianapolis, April 13-15,1993;Birbeck, Anthony L.,
"AEuropean Perspective on Farm Animal Welfare,"from the April 15, 1991, issue of the
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association; Mason, Jim, and Peter Singer,
Animal Factories, Harmony Books, New York, 1990; American Farm Bureau Federation
(AFBF), Meeting the Animal Rights Challenge, 1991;Agra Europe, various 1991issues;
and Animala and Their Legal Rights, the Animal Welfare Institute, Washington, 1990.
U.S. POLICY SETTING
In the United States, farm animal activism has become a part of the
broader, and growing, animal protection movement. Twenty percent of the
public has indicated that it has contributed money to animal protection
organizations. By one recent count, there are some 7,000, animal protection
groups in the United States.' Membership in one of the largest, the Humane
Society of the United States (HSUS),increased seven times faster between 1984
and 1988 than it had in the preceding 10 years."
These groups and their objectives vary widelyn7The majority concentrate
on local charitable activities--the many local animal shelters and humane
societies familiar to most Americans. Others are primarily environmental or
wildlife organizations, like the National Wildlife Federation and National
Several hundred, mostly newer, groups have become highly visible. One
controversial national group is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
(PETA), which advocates an end to all human uses of animals and their
products. A few have taken credit for disrupting animal-related work. Other,
more established groups, like HSUS, include farm animal care on their broader
agendas, but do not necessarily espouse the elimination of animal agriculture.
Several organizations now focus almost exclusively on the treatment of
farm animals. These include the Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM),
Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming Association, United Poultry Concerns,
and the Food Animal Concerns Trust. Some embrace views similar to PETA's,
while others espouse--at least publicly--the relatively more modest goal of
modifying rather than eliminating animal agriculture.
During the 1980s, the more aggressive groups like PETA had garnered
widespread publicity for their efforts to abolish the use of animals in laboratory
research. More recently, leading animal activists have predicted that the
' ~ e n c h ,Joy A., and Thomas G. Hartsock, "AnUpdate on Animal Welfare Issues";
and Stricklin, W. Ray,and Mench, "RecentDevelopments in Farm Animal Welfare,"from
the proceedings of the Maryland Nutrition Conferences of 1992 and 1989, respectively.
'HSUS is a national advocacy organization on animal welfare issues supported by
dues-paying individuals and is not affiliated with the many local humane societies that
operate animal shelters throughout the United States.
'~etaileddescriptions of these organizations, as well as many farm-related groups,
can be found in the Directory of Animal Rights~WelfareOrganizations, published in 1990
by the Foundation for Biomedical Research, 888 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Ste. 303,
Washington, DC 20006.
primary focus of the animal protection movement will shift to farm animals
because such animals represent "95 percent of animal suffering."'
Farmers, ranchers, animal scientists, agribusiness executives and others in
conventional agriculture have always evaluated proposed changes based
primarily upon scientific and economic arguments. However, they are now being
forced onto unfamiliar debating territory, where considerations other than
science and economics could ultimately prevail. Today, the policy setting for
animal agriculture issues also includes:
The production of food for people who are more removed from, and
less familiar with, the process than ever before in history; only 2
percent of the U S . population now resides on farms. Most of the
other 98 percent were first introduced to animals on aesthetic or
sentimental terms--as pets, zoo subjects, or cartoon characters;
An extremely wide range of moral and religious beliefs about humans'
relationship with other animals, which ultimately could carry more
weight than the traditional economic and scientific arguments.
Because these beliefs are by their nature arbitrary and value-laden,
compromise becomes difficult for many--and impossible for some.
Recent surveys suggest that a majority of the public still supports the use
of animals, as do many of the animal protection groups themselves. According
to these surveys, and to animal welfare experts, the most widely held views are
Humans should use animals only when "necessary," currently meaning
for food and certain types of biomedical research but perhaps not for
cosmetic product testing or furs;
In general, farmers are treating their animals humanely;
Animals should not be subjected to needless pain and suffering and, if
possible, they should be cared for in ways that enable them to follow
their natural behaviors;
Some level of Government regulation to insure that farm animals are
not mistreated might be a p p r ~ p r i a t e . ~
8~ongoven,Biscoe, and Duchin Inc., "Decade of the Animals: The Vegetarian
Movement,"a report on a FARM conference in Rockville, Maryland, on November 8-11,
1991. Also, "IlecentDevelopments in Farm Animal Welfare."
' ~ e n c hand Hartsock, "An Update on Animal Welfare Issues." Four public opinion
surveys on Rnimnl agriculture commissioned in 1989 and 1990 by industry groups are
summarized in more detail in the AFBF's Meeting the Animal Rights Challenge. More
recently, an August 1995 telephone survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation
Agricultural interests themselves have attempted to raise producer
awareness of well-being concerns. For example, a number of groups have
developed and disseminated their own voluntary guidelines for humane care and
treatment of farm animals, The United Egg Praucers issued "Recommended
Guidelines of Husbandry Practices for Laying Chickens." The National Pork
Producers Council has established a committee to address swine care concerns
and published its own handbook to guide producers,1° as has the American
Elsewhere, a consortium of industry groups and Government agencies
sponsored the publication in 1988 of an extensive guidebook to assist those
engaged in agricultural research and teaching "...in caring for and using
agricultural animds in ways judged to be professionally and humanely
appropriate."11 Industry publications frequently feature general and technicd
articles preaching against mistreatment of animals and explaining improved
livestock handling practices.
Luther Tweeten, an agricultural economist and professor at Ohio State
University, predicted the course of the debate:
Animal welfare and rights issues have factual dimensions about which
much remains to be learned through research. Ultimately, however,
the issues are cultural and political Reasonable peopIe will look a t
the same facts, yet reach opposite conclusions for policy because their
values and beliefs differ. The success of disparate interest groups in
the animal welfare policy decision process will depend on what view of
animal welfare wins the hearts and minds of the public.12
for Animal Rights International found that an overwhelmingmajority agreed that animal
pain and suffering should be reduced as much as possible, even though such animals are
destined to be slaughtered for food. An overwhelming majority also agreed that
Government agencies should be involved, at least to some extent (two-thirds said to a
large extent) in protecting farm animals from cruelty.
l0%mal Welfare vs. Animal Rights," article in the August-September 1991 issue of
Horizons magazine, published by Future Farmers of America. Several industry groups
are also funding some scientific research on animal well-being, see "Scientific Aspects of
Animal Welfare" in this report.
"Consortium for Developing a Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals
in Agricultural Research and Teaching, Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultzmzl
Animals in Agricultural Research and Teaching, March 1988.
''Tweeten, Luther, "Public Policy Decisions for Farm Animal Welfare," a paper
presented to the International Conference on Farm Animal Welfare, Queenstown,
Maryland, June 10, 1991.
ARGURlENTS FOR AND AGAINST ANIMAL AGMCULTURE
Stanley E. Curtis, head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science a t
Pennsylvania State University and a nationally recognized authority on farm
animal well-being, says the topic is "as complex as a political issue can get."
At one end of a wide spectrum of views are those who hold that man has
no right to use animals for any purpose, even food or medicine. All animals,
these groups contend, have the same inherent right to live a "natural" life as
people, and any distinction is "speciesism" and immoral, The modern animal
rights movement can trace its roots at least to the mid 1970s, when philosopher
Peter Singer published a book called Animal Liberation. "The strength of the
case for Animal Liberation is its ethical commitment; we occupy the high moral
ground and to abandon it is to play into the hands of those who oppose us," the
Preface of the book's 1990 edition states.''
Supporters of this and similar perspectives shun even a seemingly neutral
term such as "animal welfare," which, they believe, implies that man ought to
have some dominion over animals; confining them, they say, is cruel by
definition. The strictest interpretation of the animal rights view would mean
an end to all animal agriculture; ultimately, it leaves no room for compromise
with those who make their living in the livestock and poultry industries.
A sharply contrasting view, the product of centuries of Western religious
and philosophical thinking, is that God assigned humans a higher place in the
world than other animals. Man was given both dominion and stewardship over
other forms of life.14 Carried further, the argument might imply that man is
free to exploit animals, and the environment, for his own benefit. Those who
believe that animals have the same intrinsic "rights" as man are engaging in
anthropomorphism, or the "humanizing" of animals, according to this view.
Nonetheless, few if any current adherents to this viewpoint would condone
neglect or willful cruelty to animals.
The animal protection movement's strongest critics contend that groups
like PETA and FARM illustrate the potential threat that livestock and poultry
production faces in coming years. Animal agriculturalists state that they are
just as concerned about--and best understand-the welfare needs of their animals
and, a t any rate, would be economically foolish to mishandle them. They, along
with many others in agriculture, are concerned that efforts by a poorly informed
public could lead to the imposition of mandatory and unworkable regulations
harmful not only to the industry but also to the animals themselves.
lasinger, Peter, Animal Liberation, Random House, New York, 1990.
14~tricklinand Mench, "Bioethics and the Professional Animal Scientist," article
published in The Professional Animal Scientist, June 1989. In the book The Covenant
of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication (W.
Morrow, New York, 1992), Stephen
Budiansky argues that domestication evolved naturally, with certain animals essentially
yielding their freedom to man in exchange for comfort and security.
However, much of the recent policy debate now focuses on a search for
some common consensus on how to ensure farm animal welfare. In other words,
assuming that &an will continue to use animals for food and other necessities,
what are the most appropriate methods for taking care of them?16
On-FarmPractices at Issue
Many animal protection groups contend that producer efforts will always
fall short, in part because today's so-called "factory farming systems" perpetuate
standard practices harmful to animals. Following are examples of specific
production practices that have come under attack. Many are associated with
intensive farming systems,l6
Intensive confinement facilities. Animal activists charge that
confinement systems--includingbut not limited to large dairy and beef
cattle feedlots, and closed chicken houses--can cause both physical
suffering and behavioral stress through overcrowded conditions that
can foster aggressiveness, cannibalism, boredom, fear, and the spread
of diseases (like Salmonella enteritidis in poultry houses). They
contend that closely confining large numbers of animals makes it
extremely difficult to detect individual (often subtle) behavioral
changes that might signal serious illness, or to treat them adequately.
Activists also argue that animals should be provided enough space to
perform their natural behaviors, given access to the out-of-doors for
daylight and fresh air, and not be forced to live on concrete or metalslab or slat floors that can damage legs and feet.
Defenders of animal agriculture counter that housing systems shelter
animals from predators, bad weather, and extreme climates, make
breeding and birth less stressful, and in fact do make it easier for
farmers to observe and treat each animal, mitigating health and
disease problems--which are no more likely to occur in such housing
than in the open, they assert. Modern confinement systems, which are
continually undergoing improvements based upon new scientific
findings, are well-ventilated, warm, sanitary, and facilitate the
provision of optimal nutrition and adequate water, they argue.17
16Stricklinand Mench, "Bioethics and the Professional Animal Scientist."
%ources include: Ernst, Stan, "Who's Right," from the March 1990 issue of Ohio 21;
the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), "mal
Statements and Background Information,"revised July 1991;the Council for Agricultural
Science and Technology (CAST) report "Scientific Aspects of the Welfare of Food
Animals," November 1981;Fox, Michael W.,
Farm Animals: Husbandry, Behavior, and
Veterinary Practice, University Park Press,Baltimore, 1984;Mason and Singer, Animal
''Animal Industry Foundation, "Animal Myths and Facts,"&ril
Veal crates. Many activists characterize the raising of veal calves as
the least justifiable animal production practice. They contend that the
calves are abused physically and psychologically by confining them in
separate stalls or crates that are dark and lack room to turn around,
providing inadequate nutrition to maintain a light meat color, and
dosing them with antibiotics.
Producers say that modern stall systems do permit calves to stand, lie
down, see, touch and react to other calves in clean, well-lit barns.
Segregating the calves permits closer medical supervision and controls
deadly bacterial diseases and parasites, and diets are specially
formulated to meet nutrition and health needs. Group housing for
veal calves is inappropriate, because it increases the likelihood of the
spread of infectious diseases, according to an AVMA official.18
Sow gestation stalls. Activists have criticized the use of gestation
stalls for sows which do not permit them to walk or turn around,
causing lameness and other problems. Animal scientists and others
counter that such systems permit the sow to stand and lie down,
reduce death and injury to piglets due to crushing, better control
feeding, and reduce aggression, among other benefits.
Egg-laybghens. Activists complain that layers are crowded three,
four, or five-abreast into "battery cages" leaving inadequate space to
move around, scratch, and eat, and encouraging cannibalism, stress,
osteoporosis, and joint diseases, Defenders argue that such housing
has protected hens from predators, disease, and weather extremes;
fostered better hygiene, environmental control and livability; greatly
improved feed conversion and egg production per hen; and helped
determine pecking order in small flocks.
Beak trimming. Poultry producers frequently trim the beaks of
young chickens and turkeys, often by applying an electrically heated
blade, in order to keep chickens from cannibalizing one another.
Activists contend that "debeaking" is painful, prevents birds from
naturally scratching for food, and that cannibalism is an unwanted
consequence of overcrowding.
Castration, tail docking, and dehorning. Routine surgical
procedures such as castration of bulls and boars, tail docking of swine,
and dehorning of cattle have been criticized as painful and
unnecessary, particularly if performed on older animals or without
adequate anesthesia. Producers say such procedures are necessary to
reduce animal aggressiveness, prevent physical danger to other animals
in the herd and to handlers, enhance reproductive control, andlor to
satisfy consumer preferences regarding taste and odor of meat. These
to the AVMA, male dairy calves were killed at birth until establishment
of the veal industry. About 40 percent of newborn dairy bulls are now raised for veal.
practices are performed on animals at a young age, and do trade "...
some short-term discomfort for the long-term benefit of the animals,"
according to the National Cattlemen's Association (NCA).lg
Use of drugs and chemicals. Activists argue that confinement
housing systems have contributed to an overreliance on antibiotics like
penicillin and tetracylines to manage disease and growth, hormones to
enhance production and reproduction, and chemicals to control flies,
rodents and other pests. Many of these substances--some legal and
some n o b a r e dangerous to the health of the animals and producers,
it is argued. And, improperly used, they can later show up in the
human food supply, posing health hazards such as carcinogenic
toxicity, antibiotic resistance, allergic reactions, etc., activists have
Animal scientists concur that high-density production systems can
escalate the potential for diseases. But they also provide a better
opportunity than open field systems for closer monitoring of animals'
health and nutrition, they state, adding that well-run immunization,
nutritional, and environmental systems have greatly curtailed the
spread of illnesses. Outbreaks that do occur can be effectively
controlled through proper use of scientifically developed drugs proven
to pose no threat to human health, defenders say. Growth-promoting
antibiotics also have undergone the same level of rigorous development
and testing; all animal health products and pesticides are strictly
regulated and monitored by the Government to minimize risks to both
animals and humans, they maintain.
Related Animal Agriculture Issues
A recent strategy of U S . animal protection activists has been to reframe the
debate within a broader policy context. They see links between animal welfare
problems and other perceived ills in production agriculture such as an
overdependence on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, environmental pollution,
the decline of the family farm and rural areas, and unhealthful food products.
By successfully marrying these issues, they also might tap a much broader
For example, HSUS and allied organizations have focused on the concept
of "humane sustainable agriculture (HSA),"which by one definition "...produces
adequate amounts of safe, wholesome food in a manner that is ecologically
sound, economically viable, equitable, and humane. HSA meets the animals'
basic physical and behavioral requirements for health and well-being through
"Industry Facts:Animal Care," Undated fact sheet.
a food and agricultural system that respects all of nature--humans, soil, water,
plants and wild as well as domestic animals."20
Economic and Social Issues
Critics frequently note that animal production has been transformed from
the smaller, "family-sized farms of 50 years ago into larger, more intensive
operations, where large numbers of animals are confined to closed housing
systems to be raised for market as cheaply and rapidly as possible. This has
contributed directly to undesirable changes in the structure of U.S.agriculture,
"A handful of multinational corporations has now gained a monopolistic
control over animal agriculture, with increasing numbers of farmers being either
forced out of business or co-opted as contract peons to operate their factory
farms or to grow animal feed. Independent farmers are as much a victim of the
economy and politicaI pressures of factory farming as are the farm animals
themselves," HSUS's Michael Fox has declaredF1 The decline of small farms
has also caused painful dislocations in rural communities, others have argued.
A few in mainstream agriculture say they concur with Fox's view. In the
January 1989 issue of Farm Journal, Gene Logsdon, a former editor of the
magazine wrote: "Which is more a threat to your independent business as a
family livestock farmer: animal rights or animal megafactories? .... If large-scale
animal factories continue to have their way, you will be slowly pushed out of the
hog and beef business just as has happened to 95 percent of the chicken farmers.
On the other hand, if the animal rightists have their way, the livestock industry
will return to smaller, family-sized farms."
Defenders of animal agriculture acknowledge that farms in general have
become larger and more concentrated, and that animal production systems have
changed to adjust to increasingly competitive markets. But they point out that
most of the Nation's 2 million farms are owned by a n individual or married
couple responsible for their operation.
On the other hand, USDA considers over 70 percent of US,farms to be
noncommercial, meaning they produce relatively small quantities of farm
products and do not provide enough farm income to support a family. Larger
commercial farms--those with annual sales over $250,000 each--accounted for
about 5 to 6 percent of all farms, but 57 percent of all agricultural (crop plus
livestock) sales. The very largest farms--those with annual sales over $500,000
"Statement, the Humane Sustainable Agriculture Project,International Alliance for
SustainableAgriculture, Winter 1990-91, A report on thisl topic is: Benbrook, Charlea M.,
Sustainable Agriculture in the 21st Century: Will the Grass Be Greener?"published in
collaboration with HSUS, 1991.
21"~heAmerican Farm and Humane Sustainable Agriculture," speech at the
Brookings Institution Agriculture Roundtable, Washington, D.C.,
February 11, 1992.
each--accounted for about 2 to 3 percent of all farms, but 42 percent of all
livestock sales and 38 percent of all agricultural (crop plus livestock) sales.''
"Rising labor and land prices have placed a premium on labor-saving and
land-saving methods of production. Gains in income and population along with
changes in production technologies, including disease control, have interacted
with prices to create economies of size and make confinement systems feasible.
Small may be beautiful but it is frequently not competitive," a leading
agricultural economist has observed.23
Penn State's Curtis had noted in 1985: "And lest anyone worry that
bigness equals inhumaneness, rest assured (a) that the cruel streak is no
respecter of size of operation and (b)that individual inspection of animals is
easier in intensive production systems than in extensive ones.""
Many farm groups are concerned that the imposition of more government
standards for the care and handling of animals will be costly to the industry,
and will drive many smaller, financially struggling producers out of business.
Besides, it has been argued, consumers have the principal stake in the debate
over farm animal welfare. Improvements in productivity on the farm have
brought them a wide choice of meat and poultry (and many other) products at
reasonable prices. If animal protection advocates are successful in forcing
changes--through legislation or other means--that make it more expensive to
raise animals, the higher costs will eventually be passed onto consumers
(including the poorest families).
Fox and others have countered that welfare-driven changes in animal
husbandry could actually save producers money by reducing economic losses
caused by stress-related diseases and deaths. Logsdon asserted that even if
production costs were higher, many consumers would be willing to pay a few
dollars more for their meat and eggs raised the way "the moderate majority of
animal rightists desire," just as they may already opt to buy food that is
obviously of better quality, or certified as drug or chemical-free?6
Economic Indicators of the Farm Sector: National Rnancial
~ s D A ERS,
2%'weeten,"Public Policy Decisions for Farm Animal Welfare."
Animal Welfarism in America Today," from the proceedings of the March 21
& 22, 1985, Maryland Nutrition Conference for Feed Manufacturers.
J o u d , January 1989. According to USDA, the farm value (what farmers
receive) of the retail price (what consumers pay) of animal products ranged from 34
percent for cheddar cheese to 56 percent for choice beef and 58 percent for Grade A large
eggs in 1993.
Environmental and Resource Issues
Critics maintain that in some parts of the world animal agriculture has
contributed to desertification, excessive soil erosion, destruction of wildlife
habitat and species, and related problems through overgrazing and destruction
of rain forests to make room for rangelands and feed grain cropping. Intensive
animal production systems in particular have polluted stream and ground water,
concentrating wastes and making it less efficient to return these wastes to crop
lands, many arguesz6 Some also have argued that land devoted to the
production of expensive protein for wealthy consumers could be put to more
constructive use growing crops for the world's hungry and malnourished
Animal agriculturalists agree that inappropriate practices can and have
damaged the environment, but that the misuse of animal agriculture in some
parts of the world is not a sound argument for its elimination. In fact, "...the
appropriate use of farm animals allows more complete recycling of nutrition and
conservation of resources within the total ecosystem." Much of the Earth's land
is not suitable for food crop production but often can support animals, which in
turn can be converted to food for humans, fertilizers, and even fuelsz7
Moreover, most experts primarily attribute world hunger problems not to a
shortage of cropland or the diversion of grain to animals, but rather to low
incomes, inadequate or inequitable distribution systems (e.g, poor transportation
and marketing), civil wars, and other factors not related to p r o d u ~ t i o n . ~ ~
Scientists are now beginning to develop biotechnologies such as embryo
transfer, gene insertions, growth hormones, and other laboratory techniques to
obtain more desirable productive traits in farm animals. The first product to
become commercially available was bovine growth hormone (bovine
somatotropin, or BST), approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
in 1994. As of late 1995, an estimated 11percent of U S . dairy farms (milking
30 percent of U S , cows) had adopted BST, which is designed t o substantially
increase a cow's milk production without a corresponding increase in feed.
Another product, porcine somatotropin (PST), which fosters faster growth and
leaner meat in hogs, is still in the developmental stages.
'%ee for example Durning, Alan B., and Holly B. Brough, Taking Stock: Animal
Fanning and the Environment, Worldwatch Paper 103, July 1991.
"TheBenefits and Costs of Animal Agriculture." According to the NCA,
at least 80-85 percent of the nutrients consumed by cattle come from sources other than
grains, such as grass, roughage, and food processing byproducts.
28See for example "Disastersgalore: More often than not made, or made worse, by
man,"from The Economist, May 11, 1991.
Animal protectionists have united with other critics who contend that new
biotechnologies like BST and PST, along with other modern breeding practices,
trade higher productive characteristics for reproductive problems, higher
incidence of some diseases, and additional physical and behavioral abnormalities
in animals. It has also been argued that such technologies have not been proven
completely safe for humans, and that they will accelerate the trend of American
agriculture toward a more centralized, vertically integrated structure. Both
HSUS and the Humane Farming Association have argued, for example, that
cows producing more milk are increasingly prone to mastitis (an udder
infection), suffer reproductive problems, have weakened immune systems, and
are more susceptible to other diseases which may require the use of more
antibiotics and other potentially dangerous drugs.2g
Supporters contend that biotechnological advances will offer consumers
more plentiful food supplies at much lower cost. Some of the emerging
technologies will improve nutrition, too, like PST's promise of much leaner cuts
of meat, they contend. These advances will make US. producers much more
efficient and enable them to successfully compete and sell in world markets,
supporters argue, maintaining that critics' concerns about animal and human
health have no scientific basis. In fact, when FDA approved BST, it concluded
that use of the substance poses no health risks to humans. USDA has reported
that it is "size neutral," or as readily available to smaller as to larger operations.
Similar findings are emerging from scientific and economic studies of PST,
Human Nutrition Issues
A number of recent reports by nutrition and health experts have indicated
that lower-fat, higher-fiber diets than those presently consumed by most
Americans could help lower the risk of certain cancers. A reduction in fat and
cholesterol intake has also been recommended to lower the risk of coronary
heart disease. In 1988 and 1989, three important reports--Designing Foods by
the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council (NAS-NRC)
on Agriculture, Diet and Health by the NAS-NRC Food and Nutrition Board,
and the U S . Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health--agreed that the
need to reduce fat consumption (to 30 percent of total calories, according to the
NAS-NRC)should be the primary priority in public health efforts to prevent
2%umane Farming Association, "BovineGrowth Hormone."Special Report, 1991.
Also, HSUS, "Bovine Somatotropin Statement,"December 4, 1990.
%or more detailed discussions see: Chite, Ralph, Bovine Somatohpin (BST or
BGH): Questions and Answers on a New Dairy Technology (CRS Rept. No. 93-1041
ENR), December 13, 1993; and Epstein, Susan, and Irene Stith-Coleman, Pork Growth
Honnone: Agricultural and Regulatory Issues (CRS Rept. No. 89-661 ENR),December
chronic disease.31 Choosing a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol is
one of the seven key Dietary Guidelines jointly issued in 1990 by the Secretaries
of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.
Animal protection activists have joined nutrition experts in pointing out
that the products of animal agriculture are major sources of fat, saturated fat,
and cholesterol in the modern diet. It has even been argued that meat, milk,
and eggs have directly contributed to cancer and coronary heart disease.82 The
elimination of meat and poultry from the diet would improve the welfare of
humans and farm animals alike, these activists have asserted.
However, many of the same scientists who urge a reduction in fat intake
also have recognized the importance of animal products in human nutrition,
noting that they can complement the nutritional deficiencies of plant products.
Besides contributing about three-quarters of the protein and one-third of the
food energy in the American diet, animal products are an easily-obtainable
source of vitamin B-12, and are major sources of numerous other vitamins and
minerals, particularly iron, calcium, and phosphorus. Although some persons
can and do live healthily on completely animal-free diets, they require careful
attention to assure adequate intakes of essential nutrients."
In addition, the Surgeon General's recommendations did suggest eating less
fat--but not necessarily less meat.34 Many nutritionists, animal scientists and
others agree on the need to cut the consumption of fat consumed through
animal products, but they suggest that this can be accomplished through a
combination of personal dietary modifications (e.g., shifting from whole to lowfat or skim milk and to leaner cuts of meat) and changes in animal production
practices (e.g., alterations of genetic traits and feeding that yield leaner
"~estle, Marion, and Donna V. Porter, "Evolution of Federal Dietary Guidance
Policy: From Food Adequacy to Chronic Disease Prevention," in Caduceus, a museum
journal for the health sciences, Summer 1990.
"see for example Mason and Singer, Animal Factories.
33~tricklin,"The Benefits and Costs of Animal Agriculture." The American Dietetic
Association's official position on vegetarian diets states that "vegetarian diets are
healthfd and nutritionally adequate when appropriately planned."F'or background see
the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 88, No. 3, March 1988.
%n fact, between 1970 and 1993, animal fat intake decreased by about 28 percent,
while vegetable fat increased by 43 percent. USDA, ERS,Food Consumption, Prices, and
Expenditures, 1970-93, December 1994.
he Benefits and Costs of Animal Agriculture."
Off-farm Handling Practices
Animal protection groups have also been critical of how farm animals are
treated after they leave the farm--during transportation, in sale barns and
stockyards, and at slaughterhouses. Among recent questions that have gained
relatively wide attention: the handling by some stockyards of sick or injured
animals, including nonambulatory ones ("downers");and whether many chickens
and turkeys suffer unnecessarily during slaughter, in part because they are not
subject to the Federal Humane Slaughter Act. These and other off-farm issues
are discussed in the part of this report on selected legislation.
"Today, the major controversy in animal welfare is not its importance, but
its definition," animal scientist Gary P. Moberg of the University of California
recently observed. Scientists who have attempted to address this question have
indicated that "welfare," "well-being,"and contrasting terms such as "suffering"
and "stress" are imprecise and extremely expansive concepts.
One narrow interpretation of the concept holds that poor welfare exists
only when an animal's physiology is disrupted enough to endanger survival or
reproductive ability, for example. But some have more expansively defined
welfare to include not only the animal's physical needs but also its behavioral
needs (which some have characterized as its psychological or mental needs). To
what extent, if any, do various species experience emotions usually associated
with humans? How do animals perceive pain or fear? Do they experience
depression or anxiety or social stress?
Various researchers have suggested a variety of indicators that may be
important in measuring an animal's overall welfareea6
Productivity and reproductivity. One traditional measure has
been an animal's productive performance. Many agriculturalists make
the case that those who do not provide adequate food, water, shelter,
and medical attention will not receive optimal output from their
animals. In other words, healthy, happy animals are better producers
of meat, milk, eggs, or offspring; and farmers who mistreat their
animals risk losing profits, and ultimately the farm.
Disease incidence. It has been suggested that a diseased animal
suffers both physically and mentally. Minimizing the incidence of
his discussion is based in part on Curtis' testimony before the House Agriculture
Subcommittees on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, and Department Operations, Research
and Foreign Agriculture, June 6, 1989; and Zimbelman, Robert G., "Animal Well-being:
One Scientist's Point of View," presented at the annual meeting of the American Society
of Animal Science, Laramie, Wyoming, August 8, 1991.
disease and related health problems has long been a goal of sound
Physical safety. Management systems that shield domestic animals
from wild predators, protect them from harming each other, and
shelter them from severe weather or other dangerous physical
conditions have all been viewed by farmers and ranchers as favorable
to their well-being.
Physiology and biochemistry, Some scientists have attempted to
calculate animals' overall well-being through quantitative
measurements of chemical and other changes in their bodily functions.
Examples include levels of leucocytes, adrenalin, growth hormones or
other substances in the bloodstream, heart rate, and body temperature.
Ethology (behavior). Recent studies have attempted to measure
how an animal behaves under different situations. A cow or hog or
chicken exhibiting "abnormal" behavior might be stressed or suffering.
This indicator, according to some researchers, requires an
understanding of how the animal would act either in its "natural"
environment or if given a choice (of, for example, what to eat or what
type of house to live in). It also implies acceptance that a farm animal
has a t least some awareness of its condition
Earlier tests of animal welfare relied primarily on productivity measures,
perhaps along with disease incidence and physical safety. However, critics of
this approach have argued that a producer might sacrifice the welfare and
survival of a number of individual animals to maximize overall profits. At any
rate, high productivity might have more to do with genetics and feeding
practices than with the animals' humane treatmentea7
Some scientists, particularly those who accept that animals share a t least
some of the psychological needs traditionally ascribed to humans, assert that
physiological and behavioral measurements are the most direct indicators of
A growing consensus among animal scientists and others is that animal
well-being can best be assessed through an interdisciplinary approach, one that
considers a wide range of indicators rather than any single one. It has been
argued that these indicators must be applied "holistically" to each animal's
situation: how it is housed and fed, how it relates to others in its species, and
Animal agriculture, supported by more than a century of Federal research
and extension programs, has made enormous strides in the areas of animal
productivity, disease prevention, and even physical safety. The introduction of
sophisticated genetic selection, nutritionally balanced feeds, new veterinary
"Fox, Farm Animals: Husbandry, Behavior, and Veterinary Practice.
medicines, and new, climate-controlled housing systems have brought major
economic benefits to producers and consumers alike. For example, a hen today
can lay twice as many eggs as she did 50 years ago, on 50 percent less feed.
Broilers are now raised to a slaughter weight of 4.2 pounds in well under 2
months, compared with 3 pounds in 2.5 months in 1955. The average dairy cow
now produces three times as much milk as 60 years earlier.
I t is no coincidence that science has been able to measure objectively and
quantify numerically these traditional indicators of performance--as in rates of
growth and production, feed efficiency, and mortality. But the more contentious
aspects of animal well-being--those associated with an animal's possible mental
state--are much more subjective and difficult to quantify, analyze and interpret,
animal scientists and veterinarians generally agree. Some traditional
agricultural interests have simply dismissed such efforts, insisting that it is
impossible to prove that farm animals either do or do not suffer mentally.
Fox has written that any inability to assess scientifically what an animal
(or, for that matter, a human being) experiences subjectively or emotionally is
no reason to ignore their importance:
The close alliance of science and economics in animal production and
farm and laboratory animal care does not make such fields the
exclusive domain of science and technology, for there is no legitimate
or logical reason for excluding ethics, values, and humane concerns on
the basis of their being irrelevant or "unscientific." ... In order to avoid
"paralysis by analysis" in defining optimal conditions scientifically,
common sense morality, empathy, and ethics should be an integral
part of the decision-making process in deciding how animals should be
Joy A. Mench of the University of Maryland Department of Poultry Science,
and Ari van Tienhoven of the Cornell University Department of Poultry and
Avian Sciences, observed:
There is considerable controversy ...over whether emotional experiences
like boredom, frustration, and apprehension of future suffering or
pleasure exist in an evolutionary continuum or are unique to human
beings. Nevertheless, devising methods to quantify and interpret the
emotional states of animals has become the central problem for
ethologists investigating farm animal welfare.89
Mench and others assert that science can and should help to answer
questions about whether and how animals "feel." Failure to apply scientific
criteria to this most-contested area of animal welfare will likely lead to the
s 8 ~ a nAnimals:
Husbandry, Behavior, and Veterinary Practice.
3 g ~ e n c hJoy
, A., and Ari van Tienhoven, "Farm Animal Welfare,"in the NovemberDecember 1986 issue of American Scientist.
adoption of government standards that might be well-intentioned but harmful
to the animals they were designed to protect, they add.
At the 1993 conference on food animal well-being, a work group of animal
experts identified three general areas for research that, they believe, should
The adaptation and adaptiveness of farm animals to their
environment; to determine (and quantitatively measure) individual
animals' ability to adapt, physiologically and behaviorally, to today's
intensive production methods, given each's genetic (inherited)
Social behavior and space requirements of domestic animaln.
More specifically, a better understanding of food animal social behavior
could help determine whether, and how, restricted space affects animal
Cognition and motivationof domestic animals, to determine and
quantify if possible what they sense and perceive emotionally, and to
evaluate their motivational states (hunger, comfort, etc.) under various
Once research in these areas yields improved, science-based measurements
of well-being, the appropriate short-term production practices and long-term
management systems can be developed. These will assist the livestock industry
to address emerging ethical and societal concernsa4'
Meanwhile, funding for such work appears relatively limited, according to
animal science professionals. At USDA, which spends some $200 million or
more annually on all research related to animal agriculture, objectives have long
focused on increasing productivity, improving product quality and safety, and
lowering costs. USDA officials have stated that much of this work has
contributed to animal well-being through major improvements in animal health
Nonetheless, relatively few of these dollars are devoted to research that
USDA identifies primarily or specifically as animal welfare-related. Officials at
USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), which is responsible for in-house
research, identified about $1.8million in spending for activities related to animal
well-being, out of an estimated $109.1 million on all projects involving livestock
and poultry, in fiscal year 1995. At the Department's Cooperative State
Research, Education, and Extension Service (CREES), which supports research
through the State land grant universities, about $2.7 million out of a total
4%loberg, Gary P., and Mench, "Researchable Problems and Priorities Related to
Animal Well-Being," report on a work group that met at the 1993 Conference on Food
animal research budget of $99.2million was identified as directed toward animal
well-being in fiscal year 1993,the most recent year a~ailable.~'
Several producer groups said they also have funded scientific research
related to well-being. For example, the Animal Industry Foundation, an
organization which promotes producers' views on animal care issues, established
a scientific advisory panel and has provided several grants for scientific symposia
and research projects. The pork industry has spent several hundred thousand
dollars on scientific research into the behavioral and physiological needs of hogs.
Animal scientists and critics alike predict that financing for stress-related
research could increase in coming years, particularly if the farm animal wellbeing issue gains more political visibility. Animal activists question its likely
emphasis, which, they contend, will be genetic and pharmaceutical solutions to
the so-called animal stress problem. Many animal scientists disagree, predicting
that more future work will be aimed at accommodating animals' natural
behavioral needs-as evidenced by the discussions at the 1993 conference about
adjusting short and long-term production practices in response to scientific
EXISTING FEDERAL AND STATE LAWS
No Federal law prescribes standards for on-farm handling and care of
animals. However, two U.S. statutes do set guidelines for humane transport and
At the State level, virtually all legislatures have enacted general animal
anti-cruelty laws; some cover, and some specifically exempt, agriculture. A
number of States regulate the transport and/or slaughter of farm animals, but
apparently none set standards for on-farm animal care.46 Animal welfare
groups contend that the current body of law affecting livestock is inadequate;
HSUS, for example, has characterized it as "at best, hapha~ard."~'
These groups seek to expand legal protections for animals, including farm
animals, in two ways: (1)by lobbying national and State lawmakers for new
laws, and (2)by challenging both the interpretation and enforcement of existing
statutes in judicial proceedings.
41USDA,1996 Budget Explanatory Notea for Committee on Appropriations; also
telephone communications with ARS and CSREES budget officials, November 15, 1995.
Critics assert that the Department may be overly broad in its definition of well-being,
including, for example, research on animal health (disease prevention).
counties and municipalities have animal ordinances, including anti-cruelty
provisions, but these are not addressed in this report.
Society of the United States. Livestock Cruelties State Legislative Action
Producers and other agricultural interests, on the other hand, generally
support present laws. "The legal changes espoused by (animal) rightists at both
the State and Federal levels would broaden the standards for 'humane'
treatment of animals to change the way animals are raised, handled, transported
Recent commentary by Ohio State agricultural economist Tweeten raises
a different concern about efforts to change the laws. He argued that any major
animal welfare legislation must be Federal ",.. because any State that raises
production costs with substantive animal welfare legislation will be unable to
compete in the market with other state^."^'
If so, it can also be argued that animal welfare policy has significant
international aspects. Meat and poultry exports have grown markedly in recent
decades. U S . producers' ability to maintain and expand their overseas markets
depends not only on both their own and foreign competitors' production costs,
but also on the various government standards and regulations that affect these
costs. Countries with relatively stringent animal welfare standards are likely
to want their foreign competitors to abide by equivalent standards. (The EU
directive requiring beef to be produced without growth hormones--although
adopted more out of perceived safety rather than animal welfare concerns-is a
case in point. The directive has been a major obstacle in Europe for US.beef
Just how far society might be willing to extend the legal status of farm (and
other) animals remains to be seen. Noting that a growing body of literature is
arguing for the recognition of legal rights for animals, a 1983 book on animal
Since the legal system a t present does not allow for any rights to be
held by animals, the 'rights' movement has a substantial task ahead
of it .... For the foreseeable future any legal advancement will be of the
protective nature, as it would require a substantial change of attitude
and awareness before the idea of legal rights for animals could be
accepted. To obtain such rights, the Constitution of the United States
would have to be amended, just as it was necessary to amend the
Constitution to give all the human races legal rights.50
Farm Bureau Federation. Meeting the Animal Rights Challenge.
49~romotersof a 1988 voter referendum to impose farm animal care standards in
Massachusetts had argued that, on the contrary, such standardswould make the State's
fanners more competitive among consumers, who are now taking a deeper interest in
how their food is produced. See: Japenga, Ann. "LivestockLiberation: A Revolution
May Be Brewing as Animal Activists Challenge Conditions Down on the Farm."
Harrowsmith, November/December 1989.
David S., and Murray Loring. Animal Law. 1983.
The Twenty-Eight Hour Law, which regulates the movement of livestock
by rail and water, and the Humane Slaughter Act are the only major Federal
statutes affecting the handling of farm animals. Several other animal protection
laws pertinent to the animal welfare debate are also described below.
Agricultural Animal Research [P.L.96-113 and P.L. 101-624; 7 U.S.C.
3191-3201 and 6801(a)(6)l
These sections are within Federal statutes guiding the direction of USDAsponsored agricultural research, Among stated research objectives are to
promote "the improved health and productivity of domestic livestock, poultry,
aquatic animaIs, and other income-producing animals which are essential to the
The law was amended in 1990 to require the Secretary
Nation's food supply
of Agriculture to commission a National Academy of Sciences study "of the
delivery system utilized to provide farmers ...and ranchers with animal care and
veterinary medical services, including animal drugs." The study is to assess
opportunities to, among other things, "advance the well-being and treatment of
The Secretary also was directed to establish an Animal Health Science
Research Advisory Board to provide advice on animal health and disease
research, which shall include a representative of "an organization concerned
with the general protection and well-being of animals." Another part of the law
authorized funding for "research designed to increase our knowledge concerning
agricultural production systems that" serve six specified purposes, one of which
is to "promote the well being of animals."
Animal Welfare Act [P.L.89-644; 7 U.S.C. 2131 -21691
The principal Federal animal protection law excludes farm animals from its
coverage, even though it is administered by USDA. The 1966 law was amended
and expanded by laws in 1970 (P.L. 91-579), 1976 (P.L. 94-279), 1985 (P.L. 99198), and 1990 (P.L. 101-624). The statute authorizes the Secretary to
"promulgate standards to govern the humane handling, care, treatment, and
transportation of animals by dealers, research facilities, and exhibitors."
Standards must include requirements "for animal care, treatment, and practices
in experimental procedures to ensure that animal pain and distress are
The law excludes from the definition of animal "...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
6 1 ~ n l e sotherwise
noted, this section is from: Cohen, Henry. Brief Summaries of
Federal Animal Protection Statutes (CRS Rept. No. 94-731 A), revised October 24, 1994;
and Animals and Their Legal Rights.
or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or
production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber."
The official legislative history of the Animal Welfare Act does not explain
why farm animals have always been excluded. The original intent of the Act
was to curb the theft and mistreatment of dogs and cats for experimental and
research purposes. The subsequent amendments also indicated that lawmakers'
attentions were more directed to specific concerns outside of agriculture, such
as the shipping of pets on public transportation, dog fighting, and the use of
most warm-blooded animals in biomedical experiments.
Humane Slaughter Act [P.L.86-766; 7 U.S.C. 1901-19061
The Humane Slaughter Act is enforced by USDA's Food Safety and
Inspection Service (FSIS) under provisions of the Federal Meat Inspection Act
121 U.S.C. 603(b), 610(b), 620(a)l. The law's key provisions are:
No method of slaughter or handling in connection with slaughtering
shall be deemed to comply with the public policy of the United States
unless it is humane. Either of the following two methods of
slaughtering and handling are hereby found to be humane:
(a) in the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other
livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow
or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and
effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or
(b)by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the
Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of
slaughter whereby the animal suffers a loss of consciousness by
anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous
severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling
in connection with such slaughtering.
The original 1958 act was sponsored chiefly by Senator Hubert Humphrey
and Representative W.R.Poage, then chairman of the House Agriculture
Committee. It covered packinghouses that sold meat to the Federal
Government, which then accounted for about 80 percent of the industry. In
1978, legislation sponsored by Senator Robert Dole and Representative George
Brown, Jr. effectively extended coverage to virtually all U S , plants that
slaughter red meat animals for human consumption, and to imports.
Chickens, turkeys, and other birds currently are not subject to humane
slaughter requirements. Proposed legislation to include poultry has been
introduced into the 102nd, 103rd, and 104th Congresses,
Twenfy-Eighf Hour Luw [Act of June 29,1906; 46 U.S.C. 71-741
The law was first enacted in 1873 in response to intense criticism of cattle
transportation methods. At the time, animals were routinely shipped over long
distances in overcrowded steamships and railcars without food or water. Many
would arrive a t stockyards emaciated, injured, or dead. In 1906, a stronger
Twenty-Eight Hour Law replaced the earlier version and remains in effect.
The measure, also known as the "Cruelty to Animals Act, " the Live Stock
Transportation Act," and the "Food and Rest Law," regulates the transport of
animals across State lines by rail or water, but not by motor vehicle or aircraft,
which were not in general use in 1906. Today, most livestock shipments are by
truck--thus, few animals are effectively covered a t the Federal level (also see
State Laws, below). Amendments to extend coverage to motor vehicles have not
been successful, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS),
which administers the law, has observed.
The Twenty-Eight Hour Law prohibits the confinement of animals in
"[railroad] cars, boats, or vessels of any description for a period longer than
twenty-eight consecutive hours without unloading the same in a humane
manner, into properly equipped pens, for rest, water, and feeding, for a period
of a t least five consecutive hours, unless prevented by storm or by other
accidental or unavoidable causes ...." Three exceptions are that (1)confinement
may be extended to 36 hours upon written request of the owner or custodian;
(2) sheep may be confined for up to 36 hours if the 28-hour period expires a t
night; and (3) animals do not have to be unloaded if they "have proper food,
water, space, and opportunity to rest" on board.
State legislation affecting animal welfare is generally more extensive than
the Federal statutes. But many State laws differ in their coverage of farm
animals. Many States, like the Federal Government, have intervened with other
laws and regulations to assure fair trading and to prevent the spread of diseases,
which are aimed primarily to benefit owners economically rather than animals'
welfareper se. Certain State environmental and food safety laws may also have
a t least partial impact on animal well-being.
However, virtually no State has taken an interventionist approach to farm
animal well-being. That is, none regulates animal production practices on the
farm or ranch itself (although a number do address transportation and slaughter
to varying degrees).
The most significant effort in the United States to impose on-farm
standards of care occurred in 1988 in Massachusetts. Animal protection activists
had placed on the election ballot a referendum on whether to institute
regulations "to ensure that farm animals are maintained in good health and that
cruel or inhumane practices are not used in the raising, handling or
transportation of farm animals." The unsuccessful referendum would have
directed the State to regulate animal production practices like the raising of veal
calves, dehorning and castration of cattle, and the disposal of male chickens at
hatcheries, for example. Led by the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, agricultural
interests mounted a campaign arguing that the referendum, known as Question
3, would hurt the State's family farmers. Question 3, once apparently favored
by a majority of the voters, eventually was defeated by a 71 to 29 percent
Instead of standards like those proposed for Massachusetts, most States
have chosen to enact anti-cruelty statutes imposing various criminal penalties
on violators. In general, these statutes make it a crime to torture or cruelly beat
an animal, or to deprive it of food and water. In most, farm animals appear to
be implicitly included in the general definition of "animal." However, several
States specifically exempt accepted animal agricultural practices from coverage.
In addition, a profusion of qualifying phrases in legal wording (see below) make
it uncIear exactly how farm animals might be covered in numerous States.
More specifically, nearly half the States have laws stipulating that cruel
treatment must be willful or malicious. Nearly 20 prohibit the deprivation of
both "necessary sustenance" and food and water; in several others, only
"necessary sustenance" is mentioned. Brief references requiring the provision
of adequate space, light, ventilation, andlor clean living conditions are made in
the statutes of Florida, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York,
Ohio, Washington, and W i s c ~ n s i n . ~ ~
The major issues regarding these anti-cruelty statutes are their
interpretation and enforcement. As this report has indicated, there is little
agreement among agricultural producers and animal protection activists on the
meanings of such terms as animal well-being, cruelty and mistreatment. And
qualifying phrases like "unnecessarily,"'intentionally,"
"maliciously" appear frequently in State legislation. Can such qualifiers be
interpreted as "a license to inflict any degree of suffering on any number of
animals provided that the motives of the person inflicting the pain are not
sadistic," as the Animal Welfare Institute has argued?" HSUS has declared:
"Most anti-cruelty statutes specifically prohibit the very types of activities that
occur in the livestock industry."56
On the other hand, most producers would likely argue that the existing
laws provide adequate protection for animale. AFBF's animal rights handbook
observes that "...virtually every person in the business of animals would be hard-
5 S ~ n i mand
a ~ Their Legal Rights.
Cruelties State Legislative Action Packet ."
pressed to justifjl anything less than the highest standards" against animal
abuse and neglect. But other questions like "deprivation" are harder to define:
"Is a chicken caged in close confinement 'deprived' of space in a manner that
undermines its welfare? Do hogs raised under accepted conditions of animal
husbandry undergo unacceptable stress?" AFBF asked. Noting the lack of a
strict scientific basis for determining stress, it added: "...ambiguities in the
language (of the State anti-cruelty laws) may pave the way for lawsuits" by
For example, North Dakota defines cruelty as acts or omissions causing
"unnecessary or unjustifiable" pain, suffering or death; what then is
"unnecessary or unjustifiable"? Other States exempt "normal" animal husbandry
practices--but could legal challenges redefine producers' accepted notion of
Over the past 25 years, Congress has enacted a series of laws gradually
increasing the regulation of animals, particularly those used in biomedical and
related research. Animal protection activists now appear to be shifting more of
their attention to the treatment of farm animals. However, their efforts have
culminated in no significant new legislation at the Federal level since the 1978
amendments to the Humane Slaughter Act of 195tLb7
Although the current policy debate over farm animal welfare is broadly cast,
bills affecting agriculture have been few and focused on specific issues. As of
late 1995, none had advanced beyond the committee stage. A brief discussion
of selected bills follows,
Proposal: The Downed Animal Protection Act (H.R, 2143, introduced into
the 104th Congress on July 31, 1995, by Representative Ackerman) would
amend the Packers and Stockyards Act to make it unlawful for any stockyard
owner, market agency, or dealer to market or hold "nonambulatory" livestock
unless they have been humanely killed.
the Animal Rights Challenge."
one bill related to farm animal welfare has been enacted in recent years,
it is aimed at protecting producers and research facilities from radical activist groups.
The Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-346; 18 U.S.C.
43)makes it a
Federal crime to cause "physicaldisruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by
intentionally stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of, any property (induding animals
or records) used by the animal enterprise..." and thereby cause damages exceeding
Background: Nonambulatory livestock, commonly called "downers," are
animals that are disabled due to illness or injury. At issue is whether these
animals are treated inhumanely by haulers, stockyards, and packing houses
while they are being held or moved for slaughter. The treatment of downers
received widespread public attention in May 1991after NBC News' Expose show
featured videotapes of weak, emaciated animals at the South St. Paul stockyards
in Minnesota. Similar bills were introduced into the 102nd Congress (S. 2296)
and the 103rd Congress (S. 367 and H.R. 559), but did not advance. However,
downers were among numerous topics discussed at hearings on USDA's Packers
and Stockyards Administration held January 15 and March 5, 1992, and on
September 28, 1994, by a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee.
Pro: Outlawing the sale or transfer of nonambulatory livestock would
encourage producers to take better care of their animals by removing some of
the financial incentive for sending them to stockyards for some salvage value;
promote greater care during loading and transport; and generally reduce these
Con: Livestock industry leaders generally agree that livestock markets
should not accept severely disabled animals. However, it will always be
impossible to insure that no animal will become disabled during transport and
marketing. Nevertheless, the vast majority of those in the industry humanely
treat their animals; it has been estimated that downers account for less than a
tenth of a percent of all animals at stockyards, and few have been accepting
them since the 1991 reports, at any rate. Federal legidation is unwarranted,
because the industry is already responding aggressively through education and
Proposal: The Humane Methods of Poultry Slaughter Act of 1995 (H.R.
264, introduced into the 104th Congress on January 4,1995, by Representative
Jacobs) would amend the Poultry Products Inspection Act to require the poultry
industry to comply with the requirements of the Federal Humane Slaughter Act,
Background: The Humane Slaughter Act of 1958 (P.L. 85-765), as amended
by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-445), requires all
livestock under Federal meat inspection to be slaughtered humanely. Poultry
have always been excluded from the requirement, which is enforced by USDA's
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Currently, meat birds are first hung
by their feet and electrically stunned to render them insensible before their
arteries are cut with an automatic knife. Representative Jacobs also had
introduced these bills into the 102nd Congress (H.R. 4124) and 103rd Congress
(H.R. 649). Although H.R. 649 was one of the subjects of the September 1994
hearing before a House Agriculture subcommittee, no other action occurred.
Pro: Many birds are subjected to needless pain and suffering, because
current slaughter systems do not always kill or cause meat birds to lose
consciousnessprior to bleeding, and because laying hens are usually not stunned
a t all. The bill would end this problem by forcing poultry producers to comply
with the same requirements long in place for the red meat industry.
Con: Current slaughter systems are humane and do cause immediate
unconsciousness in meat birds. Laying hens cannot be stunned effectively
because their bones are too brittle to withstand the electrical shock necessary
to render them insensible; broken bones cause meat quality to suffer, resulting
in large economic losses for producers. More research needs to be completed on
alternative stunning methods (such as gas) before unworkable, costly new
requirements are imposed.
Veal Calf Production
Proposal: Legislation (H.R. 263, introduced into the 104th Congress on
January 4,1995, by Representative Jacobs) is intended to protect veal calves by
prohibiting certain practices regarding enclosure space and diet. Violators would
be subject to specified civil and criminal remedies; inspections by the Secretary
of Agriculture or any designated representative would be authorized.
Buckgmund: H.R. 263 is similar to legislation introduced in 1988 (H.R.
2859), 1989 (H.R. 84), 1990 (S. 2346), 1991 (H.R.252), and 1993 (H.R. 1455).
None of the measures has emerged from committee. However, the House
Agriculture Subcommittees on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, and on
Department Operations, Research, and Foreign Agriculture did hold a joint
hearing on H.R. 84 on June 6,1989.
Pro: Many activists characterize the raising of veal calves as one of the
least humane animal production practices. They contend that the calves are
abused physically and psychological1y by separating them from their mothers,
confining them in separate stalls or crates that lack room to turn around,
providing inadequate nutrition to obtain a light meat color, and dosing them
with antibiotics. H.R. 263 would mandate improvements in animal care that the
industry will not undertake voluntarily.
Con: Producers respond that stall systems permit calves to stand, lie down,
see, touch and react to other calves in clean, well-lit barns. Segregating the
calves permits closer medical supervision and controls deadly bacterial diseases
and parasites, and diets are specially formulated to meet diet and health needs,
Legislation like H.R. 263 reflects a misunderstanding of modern veal production,
is not based upon farmer experience or science, and would be economically
devastating to the industry, opponents have argued.
Proposal: ~ e ~ i s l a t i g(S.
n 1283, introduced into the 104th Congress on
September 28, 1995, by Senator McConnell) is aimed at regulating the welfare
of horses while they are being shipped to facilities for slaughter. The "Safe
Commercial Transportation of Horses for Slaughter Act of 1 9 9 5 would, among
other things, require that horses be rested off a vehicle and have access to food
and water after 24 hours; that vehicles meet safety and comfort standards, and
that the horses themselves be physically fit to travel.
Background: This bill is a modified version of legislation (S. 2522)
introduced into the 103rd Congress by Senator McConnell. Its introduction had
followed an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
into the treatment of horses after they are sold for slaughter.
Pro: Legislation is needed because current laws permit horses destined for
slaughter to be transported in overcrowded trailers with inadequate headroom.
Horses, unlike other livesiack, must be moved over long distances because so few
horse slaughter facilities exist in the United States. Moreover, the HSUS
investigation found that horses are inadequately watered and fed, may be
downers, and mistreated by handlers during transport and at slaughterhouses.
Con: Livestock interests agree that horses should be treated humanely
when sold and transported to slaughter. Critics of the bill believe groups such
as the HSUS have used anecdotal evidence to condemn an entire industry, most
of which already provides adequate care. More Government regulation would
be both unnecessary and burdensome for this responsible group. As with the
downer problem, aggressive education and market pressure will be far more
effective than new legislation to deal with the minority who do abuse such