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The billions of farm animals who are raised for meat, eggs and dairy products annually in the U.S. represent by far the vast majority of animals killed in this country. Like animals exploited for science, animals used for food, fiber and labor have virtually no legal protection from cruel treatment. In fact, no federal legal protection exists for animals when they are raised on the farm. Powerful economic interests and a fierce defense of the status quo work against improving conditions for animals and, in fact, promote legislation to criminalize exposure of animal abuse at their operations to the public with Ag-Gag laws.

There are three federal laws that deal with farm animals. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) completely exempts farm animals from its provisions. The Twenty-Eight Hour Law of 1877 limits the amount of time animals can be confined in a vehicle or vessel without unloading the animals for feeding, water and rest, but it does not apply to transportation by air or sea, or to transportation within a state. The Humane Slaughter Act which is made up of regulations that specify the treatment of animals at the slaughterhouse before and during slaughter, is also notable for its exemptions which include poultry slaughter and applies only to federally inspected slaughterhouses.

Some state and local governments are amending laws to preserve the “right to farm” without restrictions to exempt certain “customary” and “accepted” farming practices that are painful and distressing to animals. Among these practices are: battery cages; debeaking chickens; gestation crates; veal crates and stalls; force feeding; and forced molting.

Given the overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions on factory farms, the livestock industry uses antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes in food-producing animals to keep animals from spreading disease. Legislation (The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act) that would prohibit the use of many of these drugs would require an improvement in living conditions in order to prevent and treat the outbreak of disease. It would also slow the growing resistance to antibiotics by the human population.

In 2015 the New York Times reported on an investigation that uncovered neglect, abuse and death of thousands of animals at the federally-funded U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. The report sparked outrage from animal advocates and disbelief from the public with its revelation that the Center had been operating with virtually no oversight since 1985 in pursuit of “better” meat. The Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act is a bi-partisan bill that would amend the Animal Welfare Act to include in its oversight farm animals used in agricultural research at federal research facilities.

There is some good news for farm animals. A few states – notably California, Arizona and Florida – have taken the initiative to ban specific farm practices such as gestation crates, veal crates and battery cages. Some major corporations are responding to shareholders’ resolutions, animal advocacy campaigns and consumer pressure to implement reforms that are improving animal welfare. And polling data shows that there is growing interest in vegan and vegetarian diets out of environmental, health and animal welfare concerns.

NAVS celebrates all improvements in animal welfare that lead towards an end to the exploitation of animals and our Advocacy Center provides an easy way for advocates to learn about and make their voices heard on new legislation that furthers humane farming practices.