Corporate Cruelty: Holding Factory Farms Accountable for Animal Cruelty Crimes to Encourage Systemic Reform

39 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2019

See all articles by Mary Maerz

Mary Maerz

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: March 24, 2019


Animal cruelty within industrialized animal agriculture, or factory farms, is a major concern of the animal protection movement. Two types of animal cruelty exist in factory farms: systemic and egregious cruelty. Systemic cruelty refers to day-to-day operations of factory farms which expose farm animals to the most constant and prolonged suffering. Egregious cruelty refers to specific acts of violence to animals by farm workers. While systemic cruelty is the top priority of animal advocates, only criminal prosecution of egregious cruelty has gained traction. This Note proposes that animal advocates, through the criminal justice system, should seek to apply the doctrine of corporate criminal liability to egregious anti-cruelty cases. Doing so would address the factory farming system itself, deter the corporation form allowing similar conduct to continue, incentivize the corporation to make systemic reforms to avoid liability, and address controversial prosecutions of factory farm workers. Anti-cruelty violations of workers can satisfy the elements of the legal doctrine for corporate criminal liability. Due to the nature of their day-to-day work, factory farm workers, when they commit acts of egregious cruelty, are employees of the factory farm corporation, working within the scope of their employment, and to the benefit of the corporation. The mens rea element required for criminal corporate liability can be satisfied by imputing the workers’ knowledge or intent to the corporation. Animal advocates can take advantage of the ability to prosecute egregious anti-cruelty cases arising from factory farms through corporate liability to better impact systemic cruelty reform.

Keywords: Animal, animal law, animal cruelty, cruelty, anti-cruelty, factory farm, industrialized animal agriculture, animal agriculture, corporations, corporate liability, corporate criminal liability, criminal liability

Suggested Citation

Maerz, Mary, Corporate Cruelty: Holding Factory Farms Accountable for Animal Cruelty Crimes to Encourage Systemic Reform (March 24, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Mary Maerz (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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