Originally published in Alternet by By Nathan Runkle.

Historically, many social movements have advanced legal protections for certain marginalized groups by exposing contradictions. If white people should have the freedom to live unchained, so should black people, who are no different in any relevant way. If men should have the power to vote, so should women, who are just as intelligent and competent. And if heterosexual people should have the right to marry, so should gay people, because love is love.

Today, another social movement is asking: If dogs, cats, and certain other nonhuman animals should be granted the right to humane care and treatment, shouldn’t animals raised for food, since they are just as smart, sensitive, and capable of suffering?

Currently, U.S. law allows animals used for food to be routinely abused, mutilated, confined in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, and slaughtered by the billions—abuses that would land the perpetrator in jail if the victims were Fido or Fluffy. There is no sound basis for this double standard. In fact, science confirms what we already know through common sense: Like our four-pawed companions, farmed animals feel pain, love, and joy. They have rich emotional and mental lives, form close familial and social relationships, and enjoy freedom.

The legal exceptions and loopholes below allow certain animals to be mercilessly exploited simply because we label them “food.” In understanding these flaws, we can expose contradictions in our legal system and ultimately make legal progress.

Farmed Animals Have No Real Protections Under Federal Law

The most significant piece of federal animal welfare legislation, the Animal Welfare Act, has a glaring exception. It doesn’t provide an ounce of protection for the more than 9 billion animals raised and killed for food in the United States each year. Enacted in 1966, this law focuses on the treatment of animals used for research, exhibition, and breeding and explicitly excludes those “used or intended for use as food or fiber.”

Imagine if a law meant to protect dogs excluded all canines with tails longer than an inch. The exclusion of farmed animals from the AWA is just as arbitrary and unjust.

The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, enacted in 1958, is hardly better. It requires that livestock be “rendered insensible to pain” before slaughter. The problem? Birds and fish are excluded, meaning that more than 99 percent of animals slaughtered for food receive zero protections under the act.

In practice, this means that after being dumped from crates while still alive and conscious, birds have their fragile legs snapped into moving shackles, their heads dragged through electrified water, and their throats slit. Many enter the scalding feather-removal tanks while still alive. This is so common that the industry calls these birds “redskins,” because their skin becomes bright red when they drown. Conservative USDA estimates suggest that over 1 million birds die this way in U.S. slaughterhouses annually. That’s more chickens than the number of dogs euthanized in shelters across the country each year.

For fish, who many studies indicate are highly sensitive to pain, this lack of protection means that they can be chopped up and skinned alive.

For what limited protection it does afford, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act does not apply to animals during their time at the farm, only to their brief, tortured moments before slaughter. And multiple investigations and reports have shown that the law is poorly enforced, with countless violations forgiven and no meaningful action taken against the most egregious and repeat offenders.

Birds Are Excluded from the 28-Hour Law

The second federal law that applies to some farmed animals but not others is the 28-Hour Law, which prohibits animals from being transported for more than 28 hours without being unloaded for a minimum of five hours for rest, feeding, and watering.

Continue reading the full story on Alternet.