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Humane Farming Initiatives


In the mid-19th century, some U.S. states began enacting laws to protect animals from cruel treatment by humans. These laws were initially intended to protect farm animals such as horses, cows, pigs and sheep, but have since evolved to protect companion animals such as cats and dogs.  Ironically, in the 1990’s, many states amended these laws to remove anti-cruelty protections for farm animals.

In particular, the majority of states allow certain acts towards farm animals, no matter how cruel, so long as these acts are “customary farming practices.”  In essence, once a practice is considered customary within the farming industry, an individual cannot be prosecuted for committing the act, even if the act causes severe pain and suffering to an animal. Allowing such broad discretion to the farming industry makes it difficult to put more humane methods or standards of care into practice.

Customary Factory Practices

The following customary farming practices are still permitted in most states:

Battery cages for laying hens

95 percent of egg-laying hens live in small wire cages known as battery cages.  A single hen has about a 32 inch wing-span, but if she lives in a battery cage, she will spend her entire life sharing a space smaller than an 8.5 by 11 piece of paper with other birds. In addition to living in impossibly cramped cages, laying hens typically have the tips of their beaks cut so that they cannot harm other hens in their cage by pecking them. Debeaking is not only painful when it is done, but it makes it difficult for the hens to eat without the tips of their beaks.

The following states have banned battery cages:

Changes in the size of cages do not, generally, impact the standard practice of debeaking hens.

Veal crates

Male calves born to dairy cows are not economically valuable so most of them are used for veal. Most of these calves are kept in crates that are 2 feet wide and only provide enough room for them to sit or stand but not move in any other way. These calves are usually confined in these crates in barns with no exposure to sunlight, maternal care or exercise causing a number of debilitating health problems.

The following states have banned veal crates:

Gestation crates for pregnant sows

Gestation crates used in pig farming are metal enclosures 2 feet wide that are used for keeping each sow for most of her life — from pregnancy, through labor and delivery of her piglets when she might be moved to a slightly larger crate, to nursing her young, and finally after her piglets are taken away from her and she is returned to the gestational crate to start the process all over again.

The following states have banned the use of gestation crates:

Force-feeding ducks and geese for foie gras

In order to produce foie gras, a food product consisting of duck or goose liver, ducks and geese must be unnaturally fattened by a severe process known as “gavage.”  “Gavage” consists of force-feeing corn to the ducks and geese through a feeding tube that is forced down their throats into their stomachs. Through this process, their livers swell up to 10 times their normal weight before they are killed and their livers harvested to make foie gras. By any definition, these livers have become diseased, though they are still permitted to be sold in commerce, despite U.S. Food and Drug Act prohibitions on selling diseased meat.

Currently, only the state of California has banned force-feeding of ducks and geese.

Tail docking

Tail docking is the intentional removal of a cow’s tail and is usually performed without anesthetics. This procedure is highly unregulated in the United States and often leads to severe pain and infection. Removing a cow’s tail also prevents the animals from its only means of removing flies from its rump, causing stress to the cows with very little or no justification for the removal. The following states have banned cow tail docking:

In addition to the recent adoption of more humane standards for the care of animals raised for food, large corporations have begun to have an impact on how animals are raised as they pledge to obtain their meat or eggs only from suppliers who raise their animals according to more humane standards. Major corporations, such as McDonalds, Burger King and Walmart—along with many others—have pledged to purchase goods only from “humane suppliers” who have not adopted the standards above.

This trend—which is the result of pressure brought on the companies by customers, animal advocates and the use of shareholders resolutions—will have an enormous impact on the future of more humane farming, provided these pledges are backed up with enforcement by the companies making them.