Some animals we love, some we eat, and some we wear. This in itself is confusing, arbitrary, and senseless. But because of our societally inconsistent treatment of animals, we've also enshrined these paradoxes in our laws. The sad fact is, the way we choose which animals to love in life and which animals to protect under the law makes no sense.
Many people realize that it is illegal to harm a companion animal. Although the law sees cats, dogs and other pets as "property," they are still protected from negligence and abuse. Animals raised for food, however, have no such protection. There are, in fact, no federal laws governing the way animals in agriculture are raised. Factory farmed animals are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act and from state laws prohibiting animal cruelty.
The question is, why? Why do we believe that some animals are worthy of love and protection and others are simply seen as goods? It would be considered horrifyingly cruel to keep a dog enclosed for his whole life, in a tiny space where he couldn't carry out natural behaviors. It is also illegal to abuse that dog. Animals in agriculture, on the other hand, are subject to horrible living conditions and inhumane treatment. They are often kicked, beaten, hit in the head and left for dead. Why do accept this as 'normal'?
Two minimally protective acts do exist, but accomplish nearly nothing. The federal 28-hour law requires that when animals are being transported for slaughter, the vehicle must stop every 28 hours to let the animals out. However, this only applies to animals in transport and not animals on farms. Further, it is often unenforced and does not apply to birds, which make up a large part of all factory farmed animals. The Humane Methods Of Livestock Slaughter Act theoretically requires animals to be "stunned" into unconsciousness before slaughter, but similarly excludes birds, rabbits and fish and is similarly unenforced.
These exclusions amount to a situation in which factory farmed animals are systematically mistreated.
Factory farms are singularly focused on profit and because of this, basic considerations are denied to the animals living on them. Often, humane treatment gives way to cramped, filthy and abusive conditions.
Pigs are raised in gestation crates, cages not big enough for them to stretch out or even turn around. Hens aren't even able to spread their wings and will often began to harm each other due to the confined space and stress. Since animals need to be kept cheaply, these and other cruel conditions are often how factory farms are run.
Many people aren't aware of the horrible conditions on factory farms as well as the fact that these animals are not protected. The first step is to get informed. The next is to take action. The easiest way to ensure that these cruel practices won't continue is to reduce or eliminate animal products from our diets, thereby reducing or eliminating demand. Another important option is to ensure that elected representatives push for greater protection for animals, including stricter laws and better enforcement. The ASPCA makes it easy to email your state legislator about these issues.
Finally, we must ask ourselves why we make arbitrary distinctions between these animals that allow some to end up in our homes and others to end up on our plates. If you wouldn't accept this treatment for an animal in front of you, why accept it for an animal behind closed doors?