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Factory Farms and Animal Cruelty Laws

by Ryan Prothro '13

Factory farms are huge industries that raise cattle, pigs, chickens and other livestock animals for their meat (which they then sell to different companies that package and supply the meat to grocery stores for people to buy and consume). The conditions that factory farm livestock are kept in are no secret; animals are confined to impossibly small pens.  If the owner of a dog (or other such domesticated pet) was found to be keeping his pet in comparable conditions, he would be fined or face some time in jail (or both).  So what are the laws that regulate factory farms versus the laws for keeping animals as domestic pets?  What makes an animal at a factory farm different from a pet? What are the laws surrounding the welfare of animals, and why are factory farms not held responsible for the treatment of their livestock?

Brought about after the end of World War II when manufactured goods were becoming popular, factory farming (also referred to as battery farming) started to come onto the scene (“Food & Water”, “Factory Farming”). Around the 1980s and '90's when “agribusiness corporations” started to grow and become larger, more powerful industries, agribusinesses started to look for ways to make their businesses more efficient. When the importance of nutrition and vitamins to diet were discovered, agribusinesses took advantage of this, and used them to supplement what would otherwise be a poor diet for the livestock. The vitamin supplements made it possible to raise animals completely indoors (“Factory Farming”). Cows, pigs, chickens and other livestock animals no longer needed to be outside to get the proper nutrition. Grains mixed with vitamins, hormones, prophylactics and antibiotics gave them all the nutritional value they needed, and even sped up the animals' rate of maturity (“Factory Farming”). Through these methods, it has been reported that instead of the normal 84 days it would take for a baby chicken to mature, “a battery chick reaches maturity in 42 days” due to its diet (Factory Farming). The ability to keep animals indoors and raise them more quickly reduced both the amount of land needed to raise the animals (especially when confining them to a smaller space), and reduced the costs, increasing the overall profits for agribusinesses.

There are different types of factory farms: broiler farms, which breed chickens that are raised for their meat; layer farms, which raise chickens that produce eggs for sale; cattle, swine, turkey and horse farms, where the animals are raised for their meat; and dairy farms that use their cattle for dairy purposes. Each CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) is regulated with a maximum number of animals allowed in a particular farm, depending on its size (and for each type of farming the number is different). These numbers vary by state, and can be (and are) unmonitored if there is only one factory farm in a particular state. This is one example of how factory farms are not strictly regulated (“Food & Water”).

During my research of factory farms and where they were located, I found a source that mapped out where different kinds of factory farms are located around the United States, and how many factory farms there are in each state. While the map itself focuses on the amount of pollution each farm produces, I was curious to compare the laws surrounding animal welfare for the states that had the highest number of factory farms with states having the fewest factory farms (“Food & Water”).

Table of Greatest to Least Number of Cattle Factory Farms per State
Nebraska 644
Iowa 552
Kansas 279
South Dakota 205
Minnesota 149
Colorado 147
Illinois 139
Texas 131
Ohio 56
Michigan 46
Idaho 41
Missouri 38
Montana 28
Oklahoma 28
Pennsylvania 28
California 27
Washington 27
North Dakota 26
Wisconsin 26
Indiana 23
Wyoming 22
New Mexico 19
Oregon 18
Utah 15
New York 13
Virginia 11
Arizona 6
Nevada 6
Kentucky 4
West Virginia 3
Arkansas 2
Maine 2
Maryland 2
South Carolina 2
Alabama 1
Connecticut 1
Hawaii 1
Vermont 1
Alaska 0
Delaware 0
Florida 0
Georgia 0
Louisiana 0
Massachusetts 0
Mississippi 0
New Hampshire 0
New Jersey 0
North Carolina 0
Rhode Island 0
Tennessee 0

I wanted to know if the animal cruelty statutes are more stringent in some states than in others. I decided to look at three of the top cattle factory farm states (Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas) and compare the laws against animal cruelty to the laws in states that do not have any cattle factory farms (Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Rhode Island), to see if the number of factory farms in a state reflects the stringency of the law.

Nebraska (which is the state with most cattle factory farms) has very specific laws stating that whoever commits an act of animal cruelty should be punished. The laws also define what is encompassed in the different types of cruelty specified in the law. For example, “Abandon means to leave any animal in one's care, whether as owner or custodian, for any length of time without making effective provisions for its food, water or other care as is reasonably necessary for the animal's health…” (“Nebraska”). In other words, if the person who has custody of the animal (or is otherwise assigned temporary care of animal) is found to have left the animal with no intention of coming back for it, or has left it in conditions under which it does not have necessary sustenance available to it, the person can be charged with animal cruelty.

Similarly, in Iowa (the state with the second highest number of cattle factory farms), the laws protecting animals define abuse, neglect, and torture and make a distinction between livestock and non-livestock animals. The laws that protect livestock animals find it to be a crime if the animals are not provided with adequate “sustenance,” are not provided care that is in line with what is normal for livestock care, or “[if one] injures or destroys livestock by any means which causes pain or suffering in a manner inconsistent with customary animal husbandry practices” (“Iowa Code”,” Iowa Animal”).

Like Iowa, Kansas (the state with the third highest number of cattle factory farms) splits its rules for non-livestock and livestock animals. Like the other two states, Kansas's laws for non-livestock animals define terms within specific situations under which one can be legally charged, such as “cruelty” (intentionally causing an animal pain in any way, leaving it in a place without adequate provisions, etc.), “animal” (every vertebrate excluding humans), “farm animal” (animal raised for food purposes), among others. The Kansas laws pertaining to livestock animals cover the issue of humane slaughtering of livestock. Chapter 47, Article 14 (humane slaughter) of Kansas law states that livestock must be killed using a humane method, which is defined by the following: “'humane method' means either: (a) a method whereby the animal is rendered insensible to pain by mechanical, electrical, chemical, or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast or cut…” In other words, the animal being killed must be terminated in the quickest, most pain-free method possible (“KS Statutes”).

While these laws are all very similar in statement, each of these three states leaves space for factory farm practices to remain as they exist now. Nebraska does not make a distinction between livestock and non-livestock animals within their laws. However, laws pertaining to animal cruelty are exempt for “commonly accepted practices of animal husbandry with respects to farm animals…” (“Nebraska”). Similarly, in Iowa, the laws state that one can be punished if found to have caused pain to an animal in a way that those who practice animal husbandry do not. Currently, factory farms in Iowa, do not have regulations, and thereby, neither other (because common animal husbandry practices are not regulated). And lastly, while Kansas laws do not exclude animal husbandry from animal cruelty laws, there are no laws that regulate the conditions under which livestock are kept, where the other states do have these laws.  For states to have laws controlling the way an animal is treated suggests that conditions under which an animal is kept are important to the well being of the animal; that any negative conditions an animal is kept in can be as detrimental to its welfare as purposely inflicting pain.

Massachusetts, one of the 11 states that does not have cattle factory farms, has very similar laws to Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas, yet the statutes cover more situations which give a much more detailed (but no less encompassing) description of the kinds of animal cruelty acts that are punishable by law; and there are few exceptions to the many subsections of the laws that encompass animal cruelty.  Under Massachusetts State Law, Section 77, one who inflicts any amount of pain (by any means), does not provide the animal with an adequate amount of “food, water, shelter, sanitary environment, or protection from the weather” (“Farm Bills”), or in any other way knowingly endangers the well-being of the animal can face up to five years in jail, a $2500 fine, or both.

Animal cruelty statutes for Tennessee (another of the states that does not have any cattle factory farms) have similar laws to those of Nebraska. The laws provide definitions for the terminology used in the text and dictate how one should be charged for such offenses. Tennessee also provides situations under which one is exempt from such charges; for example, Section 39-14-211 states:No entry onto the property of another, arrest, interference with usual and customary agricultural or veterinary practices, confiscation, or any other action authorized by this part or any other provision of law shall be taken in response to an allegation that this part has been violated with regard to livestock unless [examined by a licensed professional]. If the extension agent, veterinary college graduate specializing in livestock practice, or livestock specialist does not have probable cause to believe that a violation of this part has occurred with regard to such livestock, no action against the owner of such livestock described above shall be taken… (“Tennessee”).

In other words, agricultural industries, and veterinary practices are not to be limited by the regulations of animal cruelty statutes. Only after the inspection of the animal in question by a qualified (as specified) person, who finds that the animal is not in good health, shall actions be taken to investigate the practice or industry further for evidence that the animal in question is in poor health (“Tennessee”). This law makes it harder for factory farms to be held accountable for the conditions in which they keep their animals. Another state that has no cattle factory farms (or any kind of factory farm) is Rhode Island, whose animal cruelty statutes are similar to those in Massachusetts. The laws dictate what is considered to be a case of cruelty, and define such cases throughout the literature. Specific examples of what actions are considered crimes and what actions should be taken against them are provided, along with what actions should be taken against one who commits them. Unlike other states, when Rhode Island specifies what an “owner” is, they include corporations, and “the words 'owner', 'person', and 'whoever' shall be held to include corporations as well as individuals” (“Rhode Island”). The strict laws that Rhode Island imposes cover all animals (including livestock) and all persons, making few exceptions to the rules, which makes for laws that require much less interpretation than the other states (“Rhode Island”).

Overall, the laws for the three states that do not have cattle factory farms do not show any common specificity when it comes to animal cruelty. Tennessee's laws make more exceptions than both  Massachusetts and Rhode Island (though both states did provide circumstances under which one could be exempt from customary punishment), and exclude both agricultural industries and veterinary personnel from their laws, which means that factory farms are not regulated by animal cruelty statutes in Tennessee. Massachusetts also provides an exception that exempts factory farms from some of the cruelty statutes, such as the example provided above. Though Rhode Island does provide a few circumstances under which one can be exempt from charges (they are provided under medical situations in which a veterinary professional deems an act necessary), under Rhode Island animal cruelty statutes, agricultural industries are not exempt from any rules, which may explain why Rhode Island does not have any factory farms. While trying to find out more about how animals are treated, I looked to Humane Societies in different states and their experiences with livestock animals, and the conditions under which they acquire the animals. While talking to Judy Hand, the barn manager of the Iowa Humane Society, I learned that a lot of the livestock animals that arrive at her shelter come to her because of neglect, and that many of the abused animals show significant signs of emotional distress. I also talked to Ms. Foff, an employee of the Denkai Animal Sanctuary in Grover, Colorado, and she said that the types of livestock that the sanctuary has are pigs, cattle, chickens, horses, goats, and sheep. The livestock that go to Denkai, most often as a result of abuse, are the goats, sheep and horses. When I asked which livestock animals the sanctuary gets with the largest amount of abuse cases, Foff started out by saying that most of the abuse cases are among goats and horses.

She said, “We just got a group of goats from another shelter that recently closed, and they were all rescued from a factory farm,” and went on to talk about how sheep are also among the animals that face abuse. I found this particularly interesting because sheep are not usually considered factory farms animals, but Foff explained that, though the sheep farms are not exactly factory farms, there are a lot of commercial wool farms in Colorado, where they raise the sheep purely for their wool. Not only are the animals not treated well when being sheered, but Foff said that when ewes have babies, the babies are tossed aside and left for dead; these are the lambs that they most often receive. But even when the sanctuary is able to take those lambs in, “about 95 percent of the lambs do not make it.” Surprised to hear that the farms were able to do this, I asked if the owners are ever held accountable for their actions, and the answer was, “No, they get away with it.” Foff told me bluntly, “The laws that apply to pets do not apply to the animals on factory farms (in Colorado)”; she also told me that there is quite a similar situation in Wyoming. The laws treat animals on factory farms as property, and therefore there are no legal actions that can be taken against the factory farms; and when asked about what effects she saw on the animals that has been abused, she answered similarly to Judy Hand by saying that most are very scared of humans, that they associate human touch with pain, especially the sheep that are lucky to get away without getting clipped.

From what I have gathered, my research suggests that there are not regulatory laws in place for factory farms that dictate how the animals are treated. This is due to the fact that factory farming has grown to become such a large industry that holds a lot of power and affects how the laws view animals in the business. Though there are laws that protect the welfare of animals that take into consideration their living space, amount of nourishment and shelter, the fundamental reason factory farms are not held to these standards is because the laws do not view the livestock on the farms as animals. Through talking to Foff, I was really able to see how factory farms are able to get away with treating their animals so poorly. With law enforcement unable to do anything about the animals because they are considered “property” rather than pets/animals, the livestock on the farms are left in deplorable, injurious conditions. Both Hand and Foff explained just how much of an impact abuse and neglect can affect an animal's mental state, and how detrimental it can be to an animal's sense of security and their overall demeanor. However, no matter how clear the abuse may be, while the laws and views of the livestock in factory farming remain unchanged, so will the deplorable conditions and abuse these animals face.

Ryan Prothro wrote this piece for his Writing 105with Professor Christiane Andrews in the fall 2009 semester. He was awarded second place in the English Department's writing contest.



1. Nebraska state law defines humane killing as the “destruction of an animal” that causes them only “minimal” physical harm. There is also a section of that law that lists circumstances under which punishment is exempt, among them being fishing, hunting, trapping, researching, and common animal husbandry (caring and breading of livestock animals) (“Nebraska”, “Nebraska Cruelty”).

2. For example, if one causes harm or kills any kind of service dog, “upon conviction of this subsection, a person shall be sentenced to not less than 30 days or more than one year's imprisonment and be fined not less than $500 nor more than $5000” (“KS Statues”).

3. Massachusetts law also covers specific situations under which livestock in particular may be at risk, and provides the conditions under which one may be punished; for example section, 78A states,

No person shall sell, offer to sell or otherwise dispose of any foal under five months of age other than for the purpose of immediate slaughter or humane killing unless such foal is accompanied by its dam. Violations of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars, or by imprisonment for not more than six months (“Farm Bills”).

It is clear that though MA. State laws are more encompassing of livestock animals, that there are still exceptions made for the slaughter of the animals.

4. Tennessee state animal cruelty statues define: animal, livestock, non-livestock animal, and torture. The grounds on which one can be charged with an animal cruelty crime is, “[one who] tortures, maims or grossly overworks and animal; fails unreasonably to provide necessary food, water, care or shelter…” (among other offenses) (“Tennessee”).

5. The law further specifies that individuals who work for the cooperation will be held responsible, and count toward knowledge of the corporation: “the knowledge and acts of agent of and persons employed by corporations in regard to animals transported, owned or employed by or in the custody of that cooperation shall be held to be the acts and knowledge of that corporation” (Rhode Island).

6. “No person shall sell, offer to sell or otherwise dispose of any foal under five months of age other than for the purpose of immediate slaughter or humane killing….”), which exempts punishment for the killing of a foal if it is “immediate[ly] slaughter[ed]” or humanely killed (“Farm Bills”).

7. Tennessee has total of 143 (44 hog farms, 9 dairy farms, and 90 broiler farms) factory farms, and Massachusetts has a total of 46 factory farms (1 layer farm, 1 dairy farm, and 44 hog farms) (“Food & Water”).

8. Some of the signs of distress she described, being that the animals are often very skittish, unresponsive, and not trusting of people.

9. Foff even told me that on her way to work she passes a wool farm where she sees “lambs tossed out behind the building, stalked upon each other with their intestines falling out of them, and I've tried calling animal control, but they are un able to do anything because [the animals] are on the property (of the factory farms).” She said it's hard to see but because the law does not protect these animals there isn't much anyone can do about these conditions.

10. Foff then told me about her experience with a mare (female horse) that they have had at the Denkai for the past two years, that up until recently would not walk with her head over Foffs shoulder. And even with this progress the mare still kicks and bucks because she is so uneasy around people.


Work Cited

"Factory Farming - History, Animals, Crops, Origins of the term "Factory Farming", Alternatives, Regulation of practices, Further reading." Cambridge Encyclopedia. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.

"Farm Bills - The National Agricultural Law Center." Home - The National Agricultural Law Center. Web. 24 Nov. 2009.

Foff, Denkai Animal Sanctuary Employee, Grover, CO. Telephone Interview, December 8, 2009.

Food & Water Watch Food & Water Watch. Web. 22 Nov.2009.

Hand, Judy, Barn Manager of Iowa Humane Society, Telephone Interview, December 8, 2009.

"Iowa Animal Anti-Cruelty Statute." Michigan State University College of Law. Web. 22 Nov. 2009.

"Iowa Code 1999: Section 717.2." Iowa General Assembly - Home Page. Web. 22 Nov. 2009.

KS Statutes: Ch 47 Article 14: Humane Slaughter." Kansas Statutes. Web. 22 Nov. 2009.

"NEBRASKA CRUELTY TO ANIMALS STATUTES." Animal Science (ASCI) : University of Vermont. Web. 22 Nov. 2009.

The University of Vermont. "Nebraska Cruelty to Animals Statutes." Cruelty to Animals Act. University of Vermont. Web. 22 Nov. 2009.

The University of Vermont. "Rhode Island Cruelty to Animals Statutes." Cruelty to Animals Acts. The University of Vermont. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.

The University of Vermont. "Tennessee Cruelty to Animals Statutes." Cruelty to Animals Acts. University of Vermont. Web. 22 Nov. 2009.


Annotated Bibliography

  1. "Facts: Factory Farming." In Defense of Animals. Web. 21 Nov. 2009. This site talks briefly about the history of factory farming and then spends a bit of time detailing the different kinds of factory farms there are, and the problems that surround the treatment of the animals in each of the different types of factory farming. 

  2. "Factory Farming - History, Animals, Crops, Origins of the Term "Factory Farming", Alternatives, Regulation of Practices, Further Reading." Cambridge Encyclopedia. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. Provides an extremely brief explanation of what led to factory farming and how farms sustain the large number of animals that they do.

  3. "Farm Bills - The National Agricultural Law Center." Home - The National Agricultural Law Center. Web. 24 Nov. 2009. Provides a list of the Massachusetts state animal cruelty statutes. It details what circumstances are considered animal cruelty cases and how one found guilty of such should be held accountable.

  4. “Farm Animals - Factory Farming." Library Index. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. This site details how factory farms work, quickly over viewing how production is maintained, and then goes on to talk about the pros and cons of factory farming.

  5. Foff, Denkai Animal Sanctuary employee, Grover, CO. Telephone interview, December 8, 2009. This interview provided great insight into why factory farms are not held accountable for the conditions of their livestock animals, as well as specific examples of animal cruelty cases where officers have been unable to act. The interview also provided information about what animals in Colorado are found to be most often victims of factory farm animal cruelty.

  6. Food & Water Watch Food & Water Watch. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. This website shows a map of the U.S. and the amount of pollution produced by factory farms in each state. The information is broken down by type of factory farm (cattle, dairy, hog, broiler, and layers), scale of pollution (nationwide, by state or by county). The site even details the number of farms per county, per state, per type of factory farm. This site also provides a short history of factory farming, and general factory agriculture.

  7. Hand, Judy, Barn Manager of Iowa Human Society, Telephone Interview, December 8, 2009. The interview provided me with some insight into how animal abuse affects the animals' wellbeing/ mental state.

  8.   "Iowa Animal Anti-Cruelty Statute." Michigan State University College of Law. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. This statute states the laws surrounding animal cruelty in Iowa for non-livestock animals. It details the types of actions that are punishable by law, the level of punishment that can be issued for these offenses, and in what situations one may be exempt from these charges.

  9. "Iowa Code 1999: Section 717.2." Iowa General Assembly - Home Page. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. These are the laws that the state of Iowa has to protect livestock animals. The laws detail what is considered cruelty, and under what circumstances these laws do not apply.

  10. KS Statutes: Ch 47 Article 14: Humane Slaughter." Kansas Statutes. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. Under these laws the livestock of Kansas are protected from brutal, painful slaughter. This article details what is punishable by law, and what one can be charged with if found guilty of not adhering to the conditions stated.

  11. "NEBRASKA CRUELTY TO ANIMALS STATUTES." Animal Science (ASCI) : University of Vermont. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. This document shows the laws surrounding animal cruelty in Nebraska. It details what is considered animal cruelty, the punishment for the offenses, and under what conditions these laws do not apply.

  12. The University of Vermont. "Nebraska Cruelty to Animals Statutes." Cruelty to Animals Act. University of Vermont. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. Under the statutes shown in this document, one can be punished for animal cruelty. Definitions of the terminology used, how one can be charged for what crimes, and who is exempt from these laws is all covered in the Nebraska state animal cruelty statutes.

  13. The University of Vermont. "Rhode Island Cruelty to Animals Statutes." Cruelty to Animals Acts. The University of Vermont. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. Rhode Island state animal cruelty statutes are very specific about what is encompassed in animal cruelty, and what action should be taken against an offender. The statutes in Rhode Island are very strict, and describe few situations under which one is exempt from charges. There is no distinction made between non-livestock and livestock animals; but there are sections that are specific to certain animals.

  14. The University of Vermont. "Tennessee Cruelty to Animals Statutes." Cruelty to Animals Acts. University of Vermont. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. Tennessee state animal statutes define the different types of actions considered to be acts of animal cruelty, details how one found guilty of these offenses should be punished, and tells who is exempt from charges. There is no distinction made between livestock and non-livestock animals when talking about how they should be treated, but there is a difference in how their owners are held accountable.