Over the past 20 years, a number of states have enacted legislation regulating confinement standards for farm animals, with particular attention given to laying hens, pigs and veal calves.

Jackie Schweichler, a staff attorney at Penn State Law’s Center for Agricultural and Shale Law, stressed how important knowledge of these laws can be. “It’s important for small farmers and ranchers to understand how these laws affect their businesses,” said Schweichler. “They should also realize how other factors, such as retailer and consumer demand, shape animal confinement practices.”

Schweichler laid out a few pieces of law that farmers in New England should be aware of:

  • Massachusetts – Massachusetts law prohibits the sale of eggs, veal or pork of a farm animal confined in spaces that prevent the animal from lying down, standing up, extending its limbs or turning around. The commonwealth also mandates cage-free housing with critical behavioral enrichments for the birds, such as nest boxes, perches and dust-bathing and scratching areas. The legislature also expanded application of protections to hens raised for liquid eggs.
  • Maine – In Maine, confining a veal calf or a gestating sow “in a manner that prevents the animal from: lying down, standing up and fully extending the animal’s limbs; and turning around freely” is prohibited.
  • Rhode Island – Rhode Island has enacted a bill mandating punishment for any farmer who “willfully, intentionally, maliciously, recklessly and/or knowingly authorizes or permits that animal to be subjected to unnecessary torture, suffering or cruelty of any kind.”

Schweichler also gave examples of market forces that go above and beyond state laws.

“When you’re talking about cage-free eggs, Whole Foods, Starbucks and Panera are already using exclusively cage-free eggs in their products. And Restaurant Brands International, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Kroger have all committed to being cage free by 2025,” she said.

Further examples she noted were Smithfield Foods Inc., which had pledged to phase out gestation crates for their sows on their company-owned farms in the U.S., Mexico, Poland and Romania.

A number of voluntary designations available to farmers can be earned to assure consumers that animal care exceeds minimum standards. The USDA lists the following nonprofits that offer several of the more common designations recognizing a farm meeting more exalted guidelines and standards in animal care:

by Enrico Villamaino