Approximately 10 billion animals are raised and killed for food in the U.S. alone, and that number does not include fish. In the U.S., we eat more than 1,000,000 animals an hour. Unbelievable as it sounds, there are no federal laws governing the conditions under which any of these animals are raised. Animals are increasingly raised in massive indoor structures housing hundreds to hundreds of thousands of cows, chickens, and pigs. These are knows as factory farms or confined animal feeding operations (“CAFO”s), and now account for 99% of all animal products on the market.
Animals raised on factory farms are not able to exhibit any of their natural behaviors. They spend their lives in dark overcrowded warehouses where they are subjected to a range of standard industry practices that would lead to criminal charges in all 50 states if these practices were done to dogs or cats. But farmed animals are excluded from animal cruelty statutes in almost every state. The only laws protecting them are the 28 hour law, which applies to transit, and The Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act, both of which offer only the most nominal protections.
Minimal Legal Protection
The 28 hour law provides that when animals are being transported for slaughter, the vehicle must stop every 28 hours, and the animals must be let out for exercise, food, and water. Many truck drivers do not adhere to this rule; the law is rarely, if ever, enforced, and it does not apply to birds. Furthermore, during that 28 hours, animals are routinely confined in crowded trucks with no food, water, or protection against weather extremes. Many die in transit. Many more arrive at the slaughterhouse too sick and injured to walk. These animals are called "downers," and are dragged with chains to the killing floor. Downers are often dairy cows who begin their long journeys to slaughter already in a weakened condition.
The Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act is similarly limited. The Act requires only that livestock be stunned prior to slaughter. Many recent undercover investigations show that animals routinely go to slaughter without being rendered unconscious by the stun. Even the government concedes that many plants fail to properly stun the animals prior to slaughter and that government enforcement of the Act is weak.  Birds, which make up 90 % of all animals slaughtered in the U.S., are exempt from the Act. The Act also excludes rabbits, fish, and other animals routinely raised for human consumption.
In its report “Putting Meat on the Table” researchers from the Pew Charitable Trusts concluded that “[t]oday’s concentrated animal production systems are dedicated to producing meat as cheaply as possible while achieving certain standards of taste, texture, and efficiency. Confinement systems are designed to produce animals of marketable weight in less time… [A]nimals are kept in more crowded conditions, are subject to a number of chronic and production-related diseases, and are unable to exhibit natural behaviors. In addition, the animals are often physically altered or restrained.”