Most of the meat, poultry, dairy and eggs sold in American grocery stores and restaurants come from animals raised under intensive conditions on "factory farms." Animals on these operations suffer pain and stress as a result of extreme confinement, bodily mutilations without pain relief, and denial of the opportunity to behave normally.
Consumers have the power to change this through the food choices we make every day. Farmers will produce, and retailers will sell, what shoppers demand. Seemingly small changes – like switching brands in favor of a more humanely raised product or consuming fewer animal-based foods – can make a big difference in the lives of farm animals.
Unfortunately most consumers lack the knowledge required to navigate the complicated world of food labeling claims. Without understanding the significance of different animal-raising claims (like “free range” and “humanely raised”), consumers can be easily confused and even misled into purchasing a product that is not consistent with their personal values.
AWI is committed to helping compassionate consumers locate food from animals raised to high-welfare standards, as well as revealing inaccurate and misleading labeling schemes.
Many food labels are confusing and some are downright misleading. The best way for consumers to learn how the animals connected with a particular food item are treated is to visit the farm in question. Unfortunately, this is not a realistic option for most people.
The next best approach is to choose animal-derived food products that are certified by an independent, third party as having come from animals raised on high-welfare, pasture-based farms.
Meat and other products from humanely raised animals also may be found at natural food co-ops, farmers markets and through direct sales on the Internet, but in many cases may lack third-party certification that the claims are accurate.
Look for this label:
This third-party certification program has the highest standards for animal welfare and is the only multi-species humane food certification program that requires that all animals be raised outdoors on pasture or range. Created and formerly administered by the Animal Welfare Institute (for more information, click here).
Other, less stringent options:
Because the national organic regulations lack concrete animal welfare standards, production methods vary. Some organic farms raise animals according to high-welfare standards, while others are only marginally better than conventional industry production. Also, pasture access is required for ruminants (such as cows), but not poultry or pigs. Check out the Cornucopia Institute’s organic dairy and egg scorecards to identify the best organic farmers of various products.
Steps 4 and 5 only of Global Animal Partnership (GAP)
This is an animal welfare-rating scheme, not a high-welfare food certification program. Only Steps 4 and 5 require pasture access. Standards for Steps 1 through 3 are not sufficiently strong to be considered high welfare for farm animals.
Beware of these labels:
This label claim merely means that the product has no artificial ingredients and was minimally processed. The claim has no relevance whatsoever to how the animals were raised.
The government definition of this claim is “vegetarian-fed and raised without antibiotics and hormones.” Better than “natural,” this claim still does not specifically address animal care and does not require freedom of movement or access to fresh air and sunlight.
While there are important human health reasons to limit the subtherapeutic use of antibiotic to enhance farm animal growth and serve as a cheap compensation for unsanitary conditions, food labels that assert that no antibiotics were used can also mean that treatment was intentionally withheld from an injured or sick animal in order to market the food as “antibiotic free.”
This claim has some relevance in terms of animal welfare for dairy and beef products. However, hormones are already prohibited by federal regulation for use in poultry, pork and veal products. Use of “no hormones” on the label on these latter products is therefore superfluous and does not distinguish them as more humane or healthier than any competing poultry, pork, or veal product.
USDA Process Verified
USDA conducts audits to verify that the company is following its own standards in raising animals. Hence, the meaning of a term such as "humanely raised" can vary widely among producers and all receive USDA Process Verified approval for the claim. Products from factory-farmed animals can carry the USDA PVP seal.