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 laws, including federal and 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.