Gabriel Rosenberg on the Meat Industry's Bestiality Problem

Illustration by Sally Deng Indoor Pig farm
Illustration by Sally Deng
Big Agriculture’s artificial insemination is abusive. Most states have rewritten old laws to absolve it—but some haven’t.

It isn’t spoken of much, but a significant chunk of the Kansas economy depends on pervasive violations of its anti-bestiality laws. In 2010, the Kansas legislature revised the state’s “criminal sodomy” statute—historically vague laws criminalizing multiple forms of nonprocreative sex—to delete language that criminalized consensual gay sex. But it preserved other itemized crimes in the law, including making “sodomy between a person and an animal” punishable by up to six months in prison, defining the crime to encompass “any penetration of the female sex organ by … any object.” Although it made allowances for “generally recognized health care practices,” it offered no exemption for everyday animal breeding. This makes Kansas an outlier. The overwhelming majority of states that use similar laws to criminalize sex between animals and humans provide precisely such an exemption. With the explosive growth of artificial insemination in the past 30 years, much meat production in the United States depends on forcibly inserting objects into female animals’ genitals.

For decades, the meat industry in America has been running up against the contradictions in how Americans conceptualize animal cruelty. A growing number of Americans claim to care about animal welfare and support animal welfare legislation. But the average American consumes over 200 pounds of flesh and 600 pounds of dairy products each year, most of it sourced from animals raised on concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, or fattened on concentrated feedlots. Farmed animals have few meaningful legal protections and are routinely subject to forced confinement, painful practices like castration and tail-docking, and sexually invasive interventions such as artificial insemination. How Americans claim they want to treat animals and how American animals are actually treated are two very different things, and in bestiality laws, these contradictions are laid bare.

Surely when the Kansas legislature voted to prohibit criminal sodomy in 2010, it did not intend to ban artificial insemination. But the letter of Kansas’s law—which would weigh heavily in an actual court case, particularly with a textualist court—is unambiguous. While a specious reading of the “health care” exemption might be stretched to encompass artificial insemination by veterinarians, most artificial insemination is done by low-wage manual laborers. This would make virtually every farm in the state a hotbed of bestiality.

The unsavory reality is that the labyrinthine structure of American bestiality laws derives from a contradiction most consumers would find unpalatable: Many people wish to protect animals from abuse, but the system of industrial meat and dairy production they patronize depends upon practices that would not only horrify them if they were done to dogs and cats but would often be patently illegal. If animal farming had to confront the cruelty of the insemination practices by which its product is created, cheap meat and milk production would be impossible.

Anti-bestiality laws have a long and twisted history. In the colonial period, bestiality was classed with other forms of “unnatural” sex, including homosexual sex, fornication, oral sex, and masturbation, in various “sodomy” and “crimes against nature” statutes whose broad target was any form of nonprocreative sex outside of marriage. Among those acts, bestiality was the most severely punished, and it resulted in at least seven executions. Colonists believed that bestiality was a violation of a divinely established natural order and, thus, they executed not only the human transgressors but also animals, which were seen as conspirators in, rather than victims of, the crime.

Click here for the full article in The New Republic