Laws that manage cruelty to animals regulations are highly controversial around the globe. While the purpose of most laws is to maintain humane standards for all animals, many animal activists worldwide believe that the vast majority of animal cruelty legislation is vague and poorly enforced. Cruelty to animals is to some degree both a cultural and ethical concept, which may make it difficult to create fair and enforceable laws that protect animals from undue harm.
Many countries and regions, including Australia, Japan, the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, have codified laws that protect animals from inhumane treatment and cruelty. Switzerland is believed to have the strongest and most well-defined cruelty to animals laws in existence. While other countries may do not officially approve of cruelty, there is no specific law against the poor treatment of animals in several regions, including China and Saudi Arabia.
Cruelty to animal statutes can define a variety of treatment and maintenance laws. Some handle the humane care of livestock; since the beginning of the 21st century, many laws have been proposed and created that set limits on the size of cages or stables to prevent overcrowding and discomfort to farm and factory animals. Other livestock rules deal with the treatment of animals in farming situations, including permissible methods of slaughter and regulations about feeding. The force-feeding of geese to create foie gras has come under fire in some areas as cruelty to animals, and has been banned in Argentina, Israel, and California.
Other cruelty to animals laws deal with the proper care and allowed treatment of animals seen as pets. What animals qualify for these laws is largely a cultural issue; dogs are considered exclusively as pets in some regions, whereas in others they may be seen as a food source or a mixture of both. Laws that handle treatment of pets generally forbid physical abuse and ensure that an owner provides food, veterinary care, and proper living conditions for a pet.
Some animal cruelty laws limit or regulate the use of animals in entertainment ventures, such as for movies or animal sports. These laws seek to prevent abusive training methods and unacceptable living conditions for circus and menagerie animals, racing dogs and horses, zoo animals, and animals that are used in film productions. These laws may also ban animal fighting sports, such as dog or cock fighting. These laws are far from universal, and many countries, such as those that maintain bullfighting industries, may not consider sport killing of animals as cruelty.
Many regions have few resources to devote to the enforcement of cruelty to animals laws. Often, activist groups such as the American Humane Society and Canada's Animal Legal Defense Fund remain the watchdogs of the industry. These organizations try to educate the public and expose cases of animal cruelty.