Thomas Hobbes famously described life in a “state of nature” as “nasty, brutish, and short.” The U.S. meat industry appears to have taken Hobbes’ statement as a prescription for proper animal husbandry.

Every year, millions of farm animals are slaughtered without ever knowing anything besides life in a grim, crowded cage. Many are subjected to painful mutilation, as in the case of “tail docking.”

In a sense, cows may have it worst of all. They typically spend the first six months outdoors, munching the pasture they evolved to eat. It must be a shock when they’re loaded into trucks and sent to a feedlot, where they stand crowded together in their own shit and eat corn, which makes them sick. (Increasingly, they’re eating “distillers grains,” the industrial waste of the corn-ethanol process.) Unlike, say, caged hens, feedlot-imprisoned cows know what they’re missing.

I’m happy to note that much-abused farm creatures may soon be getting some relief from a recent court ruling in New Jersey.

In New Jersey, the state Supreme Court recently ruled that factory farming practices do not qualify as “humane” simply because they are widely used. As in many states, New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture had automatically labeled all “routine” husbandry practices as humane, just because, you know, everyone else is doing them.

From the press release of the groups that filed the suit:

In addition to striking down the agency’s exemption for “routine husbandry practices,” the Court further held that tail docking could not be considered humane, and the manner in which mutilations without anesthesia including castration, de-beaking and de-toeing could not be considered humane without some specific requirements to prevent pain and suffering.

Let’s hope the case creates a template for challenges to other states’ lax standards on cruelty. A campaign in California hopes to pass Proposition 2, the “Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.” A recent post by Meredith Niles described what’s at stock with Prop 2, on which California voters will decide in November.