Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

Virginia Finally Proposes Minimum Standards Of Care For Agricultural Animals


Virginia Delegate Robert D. Orrock, Sr. (R-District 54) has introduced HB 1541, a bill that will lay out minimum standards of care for agricultural animals. 

Currently, Virginia has minimum standards of care for companion animals, but lacks the equivalent for agricultural animals.  This has seriously hindered law enforcement officers, who often feel the need to wait until conditions for agricultural animals reach life-threatening levels that can support animal cruelty charges.  A perfect example of this is found in Sullivan v. Commonwealth, dealing with an extreme lack of care for a horse.

The heart of HB 1541 is the addition of Code Section 3.2-6503.1, setting out the standard of care for agricultural animals:

§ 3.2-6503.1. Care of agricultural animals by owner; penalty.

A. Each owner shall provide for each of his agricultural animals:

1. Feed to prevent emaciation;

2. Water to prevent dehydration; and

3. Veterinary treatment as needed to prevent impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry or humane destruction.

B. The provisions of this section shall not require an owner to provide feed or water (i) when such is customarily withheld, restricted, or apportioned pursuant to a farming activity; (ii) if otherwise prescribed by a veterinarian; or (iii) if the owner is unable to do so due to an act of God.

C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to agricultural animals used for bona fide medical or scientific experimentation.

D. A violation of this section is a Class 4 misdemeanor.

I would have liked to have seen more aggressive standards of care, and harsher penalties.  A Class 4 misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of only $250.  But this is a much-needed start.  And it will hopefully serve as a launching pad for stricter laws in the future.

So what is an “agricultural animal”?  Virginia Code Section 3.2-6500 defines “agricultural animals” to include “all livestock and poultry.”  “Livestock” includes “all domestic or domesticated:  bovine animals; equine animals; ovine animals; porcine animals; cervidae animals; capridae animals; animals of the genus Lama; ratites; fish or shellfish in aquaculture facilities…; enclosed domesticated rabbits or hares raised for human food or fiber; or any other individual animal specifically raised for food or fiber, except companion animals.”  “Poultry” includes “all domestic fowl and game birds raised in captivity.”

For comparisons of the definitions of “agricultural animal” and “companion animal,” and the competing minimum standards of care, take a look at Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503 and my previous post, So What Are My Responsibilities As a Pet Owner?

I have heard through the grapevine that HB 1541 has very wide support, and I certainly hope this is the case.  If the General Assembly passes HB 1541, law enforcement will have a new tool to aid agricultural animals before conditions reach critical levels. 

UPDATED:  After many thoughtful comments and more thinking particularly of the relationship between this bill and the current animal cruelty statute, please refer to my later post for my current thoughts on this bill.

Author: Heidi Meinzer

Attorney and Animal Lover, not necessarily in that order

27 thoughts on “Virginia Finally Proposes Minimum Standards Of Care For Agricultural Animals

  1. Great news! Now let the state of N.C. catch up!

  2. Interesting blog. I know a lot about animals in general and animal care, but not so much about animal law. Well done.

  3. ….Boy do I wish the proposed bill was designed to “improve” standards for Agricultural animals, but as I read the proposed changes and after having spoken with various Animal Control Officers, these changes actually dilute the “standards of care” now required. An animal having to be “emaciated” or “dehydrated” before improper care can be charged is going in the wrong direction… The bill seems quite purposely to be vague to further thwart the possiblity of charges, much less prosecution.

    Again, as I read the proposed law, Ms. Sullivan very likely could have prevailed given the vagueness of the new language.

    I’m very interested, Heidi, as to how you interpret this language to “improve” required Standards of Care.

    • Thanks for your comments, Kim. The only improvement is that there actually are standards for agricultural animals now. For those animal control officers who take their jobs very seriously, I think that they were already diligently bringing charges for abuse before. But in jurisdictions with animal control officers that are less diligent, they seemed to look the other way due to the lack of any standards whatsover. The fact that one of the appellate judges didn’t seem to be bothered at all about a horse down for three days goes to show the state of affairs in Virginia. With at least some standards, my hope is that the General Assembly will push to beef up this law incrementally each year. They’ve shown some interest in doing so for companion animals — for instance, making a second or subsequent conviction for lack of adequate care a jailable offense. I do agree with you that these standards are incredibly low, though.

  4. This seems like a great start! Our country needs to do more to protect all animals.

    • I am getting interesting responses to this post. It is a start — a “great” one I’m not sure about. But no doubt that we all need to do more to protect animals. Thanks for commenting!

  5. How can this be a great start? This is so minimal that it is absurd. Food enough to prevent emaciation. How about enough of the right kind of food so that an animal can be healthy. How about enough water so that an animal does not feel thirst for hours?

    This looks like a response to the undercover video shot at Smithfield so that agricultural animals get less and not more care. I ask again, how is this a great start?

    I have been called as a witness in farm animal abuse trials and the animals were given the same protections under the same standards as all other animals. Under the current law, adequate feed was defined as ” “of sufficient quantity and nutritive value for good health, be accessible to each andimal and prepared to permit consumption for the age, specied, condition, size and type of animal. To be provided in a clean, sanitary manner and minimize contamination. To be fed at least once daily and more!! Water is defined as clean, fresh, potable waer of a drinkable temperature that is provided in a suitable manner, in sufficient volume and at suitable intervals. There is also standards for adequate care, exercise, shelter, space. There were This grants them much less protection and also lets jurisdictions allow the animals to stay on the grounds of the alleged abuser/neglector.

    This bill affords these animals much less protection and I urge people not to support it.

    • It would have been so much better if this law had just adopted the “adequate feed,” “adequate water” and other definitions you refer to, Lorelei. Thanks so much for your comments. I think your comments and other comments on this post go to show that for the animal control officers who have been incredibly diligent with their jobs, that this statute dilutes the law and ties their hands. For the other officers and jurisdictions, maybe it will help…. We can only hope. I understand completely where you are coming from in urging people not to support it.

  6. For example, we rescue farm animals and have 140 potbellied pigs that have come from life/death or abuse/neglect situations. More suffered from being overfed the wrong kind of food ( dog food) in excessive amounts than from emaciation. There is nothing in this law that would help them when they are lying in their own filth, blind and deaf from obesity and unable to rise. They are not emaciated or impossible to prove dehydreation until it is too late so no problem with the law. What about the hoof care? Many have hooves so long that they cannot walk. Not only pigs but cows, horses, goats too.

    The laws that are currently in affect at least insist that all animals are given food that is appropriate to their species and that they can access it. It speaks to adequate space to turn and move around, clean water that they can reach, and that each animal can get to it. This is often a problem of one animal being kept away from food and water by others…

    I had unfettered access to animals awaiting transport to slaughter at an auction barn one terrible day. They were literally crawling over each other and willing to fight to the death for the drinks of water I tried to sneak them through t he dark and the muck that would suck your boots off. One cow and her calf were blind from pinkeye and literally stuck in the filth. It was there that I learned of the term, “shrinkage” in which animals are deliberatly denied water before transport to the slaughter house. If they are watered before being put on the truck, pennies per pound were deducted from the price paid. Anyone who witnessed the suffering of those old cows, goats, and pigs, many of them already weak and sick, along with the babies taken from their mothers….hungry and so terribly thirsty. It would keep you awake at night to know what goes on. Go in the summer and you will find animals in pens with no shelter and prostate on the ground with heat. A friend of mine bought an old boar there and literally saved him from dying of heat stroke before paying for his life out. It was there that she learned that it is customary to castrate an older boar without anesthesia of any kind prior to slaughter. It is also customary to cut the vocal chords of donkeys. These poor creatures have so little protection, we must offer them more and not less.

    Section B, The provision of this sesction “shall not require an owner to provide feed or water when such is customarily withheld, restricted, or apportioned pursuant to a farming activity” brings chills to my spine and again I come back to the HSUS Smithfield undercover tape. Watch it and see what customary farming practices are in this state. Watch the pig left to die in the dumpster lie there for literally hours among the dead. We owe it to them to watch. I believe this is the lobbiest for the big agribusiness like Smithfield and the Farm Bureau. They are preying on the ignorance of the public to what actually goes on in the lives of these poor creatures who literally give their lives for us each and every day by the millions to sneak this thing through as a good thing. It is not.

    • I can’t help but think that pressure from HSUS or other organizations forced Virginia to pass some kind of law. But whether this was enough is the question!

      • Lorelei has expressed my point much better from a “first hand” point of view. Thanks so much for your perspective. Again, my point was that the existing laws DEFINING adequate food, water, shelter etc. provide these creatures MUCH more protection.

        This is not a bill introduced by the encouragement of the HSUS or any other animal welfare organization, but by the Farm Bureau and Agribusiness Council to further thwart potential charges of inappropriate care, which unfortunately are rampant among “agricultural animals”. Indeed it is attempting to be promoted as a “start” in the right direction, whereas it is a HUGE step backwards for the very reasons tha Lorelei very vividly points out.

        I encourage you Heidi, with this information, to review the proposed bill with the trained legal eye of one who defends animals. I’m sure you will change your position of support. This bill is waaay toooo far off target to be modified in this session or to be used as a “starting point” for future years’ modifications to be supported. It needs to be OPPOSED. Again, I encourage you to do just that and to utilize your blog to reach others.

      • Thanks Kim and Lorelei — having other people weigh in with their experiences and ideas is exactly why I started this blog. I’m very glad you have both chimed in and given your perspectives. Your views have made me much more skeptical of this law, and have me questioning whether the General Assembly would actually use this law as a platform to toughen the law eventually or not. Please keep chiming in!

      • Heidi, Why do you think it was the animal welfare people that pushed the law and not the agricultural interests? They seem to be gaining from it and the animals losing. The standard of care for these animals is now lower than before and the interests of agribusiness are being served by the lowering of the standards. I have yet to hear one animal organziation speak up for this bill.

        Did you also notice that someone now convicted of animal abuse and cruelty of farm animals can petition to repeal the prohibition to own animals after two years of “good behavior”? Does that apply to companion animals as well? How would rescuers of companion animals react to such a proposal?

        As a rescuer of these animals, I also find the wording of the disposition of animals found to have been cruelly treated very frightening. Auctioning, off, destroying, disposed of,…are all words used too frequently and with counties trying to keep costs down will like the sound of that rather than boarding, etc……Many of these animals have or have the capacity to love and respond to their human caretakers with just as much love and affection as any companion animal. Once they have been rescued from abuse and neglect, they deserve to have a chance to find sanctuary and heal, not be auctioned, destroyed, or probably dissapeared into a world too awful for us to contemplate.


      • There’s no doubt this bill is designed with agribusiness in mind, and not animal welfare. All great points you make!

  7. More alarming still is that they have crossed out the portion of the bill that allowed seized animals to go to humane organizations. That says a lot………….

  8. I have just finished my opposition paper, complete with pictures. If anyone wants a copy, e-mail me


  9. Heidi,

    This is a great blog and I too appreciate all the different ideas and posts.

    What amazes me is that there are those who would deny those who feel differently a voice at all or ridicule us for wanting there to be real standards by which animal cruelty can be judged and therefore prevented to the greatest extent possible. It is very sad day when compassion has become a dirty word and that you can’t want animals to be protected in any small way without being considered a wacko or dangerous.

    I have stayed out of farm animal politics all of my life though I do have strong feelings about it. Those strong feelings come from growing up on farms and living my life around ranchers and stockman that took pride in their husbandry practices and their animals. For them, I have the greatest regard. Now I try and share those lessons in responsibility in the caring for animals with the children that I work with so that they too can profit as I did. Nothing better for children than time spent with animals and responsible clubs and organziations. I also have seen the hard side of those who do abuse and neglect their animals. I am sad to say that sometimes those that have abused and neglect their animals do so under the guise of animal rescue and for them I have nothing but contempt. There is a huge rescue operation going on in Montana involving over a thousand animals that are in terrible shape from a former rescue and sanctuary that did not live up to the name. Although both kinds of abusers are in a very small minority, they give all the rest a bad name. But at least they could be stopped and prosecuted. That is all I want – for there to be a law on the book that has enough teeth to do that. It is that simple. There is no great agenda on my part or of anyone that I know to change the way farmers do their business. That is a fight that I want nothing to do with.

    But this bill has taken the fight to those of us with small farms and that rescue farm animals in whatever small way we can. We know how this bill will affect the animals and those that try and help them. Our animals not in the food chain are getting any hope of protection removed by this bill. Let’s hope that we can defeat this and then find a common ground to come up with a good bill that takes into account more than just the one side.
    I don’t want to live in a state where a child comes up to me crying because they see an animal that needs help and there is nothing that anyone can do because our laws are so weak. Those are not the lessons we should ever want to teach.

  10. Pingback: Sharing Ideas: Further Reflection On Standards For Agricultural Animals « Companion Animal Law Blog

  11. This bill was drafted by the Virginia Department of Ag’s state veterinarian’s office. It appears to me that standards of care will diluted significantly. The worst part of the bill is that they have proposed eliminating the transfer of custody of seized animals to rescue organization and shelters so the only option is to sell the animals. I can only imagine the suffering horses and other livestock will endure because the counties do not have the facilities nor the funds to property care for horses. Most animal control officers have had no training in handling or caring for horses and are not comfortable around them. This will mean nothing will be done if neglect occurs, which is does very often, and the perpetrators of horse neglect will continue worse than what it is now.

    Please oppose this bill and inform your legislatures of your opinion and what the passage of this bill will do to the welfare of livestock, including horses.

  12. Pingback: Legislative Score Card for Virginia’s Proposed Companion Animal Law Bills « Companion Animal Law Blog

  13. interesting article .. I enjoyed reading this article because it relates to my study of agriculture
    best regards

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