On 2nd July 2024, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) released a new report that documents how state-level farmed animal welfare laws continue to be minimally enforced in the US. There is no federal law that explicitly regulates the on-farm treatment of the majority of farmed animals, so the growing public concern for animal welfare has led to citizen-initiated ballot measures at state level.

Several states have enacted laws over the past 25 years to improve the welfare of farmed animals, such as Proposition 12 in California. However, this new report shows these laws have been poorly enforced.                                                                                                                           

Across 18 states, a total of 44 on-farm animal protection measures are currently in place. AWI surveyed each of these states to determine whether the provisions of those laws and/or regulations are being enforced and, if so, to what degree. To conduct this research, AWI submitted public records requests for documents related to all enforcement activity occurring between September 2019 and February 2023. In response, AWI received records indicating some level of enforcement relating to only 12 of the laws in 10 of the states.

Adrienne Craig, senior policy associate and staff attorney for AWI’s Farmed Animal Program, said in a statement. “Our analysis shows that state laws enacted to improve farmed animal welfare are not being diligently enforced,” said How these laws are drafted — including the specific powers given to a state agency and the instructions for that agency to carry out investigations and prosecutions — have an enormous impact on their efficacy. We need to ensure that these hard-won protections are not undermined during implementation.”  

State laws protecting farmed animals fall into three main categories: (1) on-farm minimum animal care standards, (2) bans on the sale of products from facilities that do not meet certain animal care standards, and (3) laws prohibiting specific conventional industry practices, such as tail docking and intensive confinement in gestation crates for pregnant sows or battery cages for egg-laying hens.                                                                                                                                         

Similar to what AWI documented in its 2019 report, minimum animal care standards overall had the most evidence of consistent enforcement during the recent survey period. Of the 30 state laws or regulations that ban a specific industry practice, AWI received enforcement records for only two. Since AWI’s last survey, new farmed animal protection laws and regulations have taken effect in six states, but there has not been a dramatic increase in the overall enforcement of such laws.

This lack of enforcement indicates that many animal welfare laws are viewed as tokenistic by authorities despite public concern, suggesting that the animal protection movement should be focusing on major systemic change, such as the promotion of the vegan philosophy, rather than small animal welfare reformist campaigns.

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Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.