Factory Farms: Animal Welfare, No Legal Protections (video)

See also: Factory Farms: Animal Welfare, No Legal Protections- Part 2


In this Friends of Family Farmer’s sponsored talk, Kathy Hessler, Director of the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland (Oregon), discusses the important subject of factory farms in relation to animal welfare protections under existing federal and state laws.

In a nutshell, livestock in America do not enjoy any protections under the law; they enjoy the same rights as a personal kitchen toaster. There are no federal federal or state animal anti-cruelty laws that apply to farm animals. One small exception applies to the transportation of livestock (poultry is exempted from this law) that requires certain conditions be met after 28 hours of continuous transport, but these are quite limited in scope.

In perhaps a time gone past, before factory farms existed, before the introduction of mega-farms, manure lagoons, and indoor warehousing of chickens, pigs, turkeys, and other livestock— before the advent of antibiotics, and vitamin D that made factory farms (large CAFO’s) even possible, (the laws of) nature would not allow a farmer to mistreat his animals; it would have directly harmed their economic interests to do so.

While many farmers do not abuse their animals today, for a number of good reasons, including moral and economic concerns, the absence of legal animal welfare protections have served to support a small segment of the agriculture sector, the large factory farm, effecting a disproportionally large number of animals.

When one looks at the pictures of livestock housed under factory farm conditions, as in Dan Imhoff’s anthology book, CAFO, these images depict the brutality, and obvious torturous conditions of their care. It should be noted, in some states, there are efforts underway to make it a felony to film any farm operation clandestinely, and in Florida (unbelievably), one senator unsuccessfully tried to make it a first degree felony to openly film any farm without first obtaining written permission of the farm. Under Florida law, that would have meant up to 30 years in prison, and obviously would have been a serious deterrent for shining light on continuing livestock and environmental abuses.

Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are the Maginot Line in the agricultural sand—in a civilized society, there can be no reasonable justification for their existence.


  1. Ridiculous says

    This is rather ridiculous. CAFO’s might not be the preferred way to raise animals, but they provide a LOT of food in a cheap and safe manner. Chickens are a great example, it’s cheap nurishing food. You’d be spouting a different story if they were 8 dollars per dozen instead of 1. You’d be pissed if meat was so expensive you couldn’t buy any. You’d be angry if milk was so expensive you couldn’t buy any. It’s fine for the rich to eat expensive, luxurious food where each of their cows had 10 acres to thrive on. But for the rest of the world we’d just like to eat. Can you imagine how much food prices would rise?

    And, generally speaking, no farmer WANTS to be cruel to their animals, and they each do their part to take care of them the best they can. The reality is, in order to feed the planet you have to have food farms.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment.

      What I find ridiculous though, is the notion that cheap food should be the ultimate goal of agriculture policy, without (at least) including the external costs that ultimately the taxpayer must bear to artificially support it.

      I find it ridiculous that we can not find a better balance between insuring an ample and wholesome supply of food for people to eat, at the same time, protecting the environment, the health of local communities, animal welfare, safe workplace conditions and better wages for food workers in the design of our food system.

      How do you properly dispose of a million gallons of manure? What do you say to residents of a community downwind of a large CAFO, that must breath methane fumes day-in and out?

      There is plenty of food available today to feed the present global population. In other countries, distribution is a more central problem than supply. In this country, we need to refocus the farm bill to support sustainable farming practices, and make whole foods (as many others have noted) less expensive.

      I’m sorry to have to say this, the existing food system is designed to enrich large agribusiness corporations, and that is its main objective.

      So called cheap industrial food that we are getting (I believe) comes at too high a price to public health and the environment.

      We need to work toward a higher goal than just making food as cheap as possible so we can “feed the world”.

      For what it’s worth, that’s my view of what is ridiculous.

      • says

        Cheap food and some skewed notion of local economic development just resulted in the permitting of a 114,000 head hog “facility” in Kansas. To me, this makes the people who live there, the animals, and the environment completely expendable. All so Seaboard can supply cheap pork, externalize the cost of environmental damage caused by millions of gallons of pig manure (liquified), hire cheap labor, and make huge profits off the backs of the community. But, they promise 15 to 20 jobs; bet they’re great, high paying ones…..

      • says

        Hi Jan:

        That’s right! It reminds me of the line, “be careful what you wish for”.
        These companies can operate this way because government policy allows and encourages monopolistic business practices, stripping away the rights not only of individual workers, but local communities as well.

        I just finished reading The Nation’s report How US Policies Fueled Mexico’s Great Migration that offers some eerie insights
        into the relationship between politics and the degradation of human life, and the environment.

        I’ll bet you saw a lot up close in your recent travels back through many of the farm states.


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