Food labels are packed with information, but some words can be confusing, if not downright misleading. A dozen eggs in a carton boasting the statement "farm fresh," for example, have probably not come from anything that looks remotely like a farm. A dairy cow is far from "happy" at an industrial facility where she never grazes on pasture. And "natural" is not synonymous with "humane—in fact, the former term refers only to meat processing, not the animals" lives. To a growing number of Americans, such marketing strategies cause concern about what these products purport to be, as well as what they try to conceal.
Now there is a label with nothing to hide. We are proud to present our Animal Welfare Approved standards, the most humane and progressive care requirements in the nation. Today, hundreds of participating family farms are putting each individual animal's comfort and well-being first. The program benefits all of us with the simple understanding that our own best interests are intrinsically linked to animals and the environment.
These standards seek to ensure that cattle graze on green pastures, sows and hens can build nests before giving birth, and ducks are always able to swim in clean water. But the Animal Welfare Approved seal is not just a list of rules. It is a philosophy of respect that provides animals on the farm with the environment, housing and diet they need to behave naturally, thereby promoting physiological and psychological health and well-being. This is the story behind the label—the animals, the people and the principles that guided us every step of the way.
Farming with Integrity
Animal Welfare Approved is the first seal to guarantee that humanely labeled products do not come from agribusiness-owned operations that raise some of their animals under cruel conditions. In a practice we disallow called "double standard certification," these companies adhere to certain standards to label some of their products "humane," while managing other animals of the same species using industrial practices. Such operations typically enjoy financial advantages that enable them to displace independent family farmers who practice a humane ethic throughout their farms. We want consumers to rest assured that when they buy products carrying the Animal Welfare Approved label, the farmers have applied our standards to all members of an Animal Welfare Approved species.
Only family farms can earn our seal. Families that own the animals, labor on, and earn meaningful livelihoods from their farms have a true commitment and connection to their animals that is lost on animal factories managed by distant, corporate owners and run by hired hands. Revitalizing a culture of humane family farming will help ensure that husbandry knowledge, experience and skills can be passed on from one farmer to another and from one generation to the next, through conversation, observation and first-hand experience. In the words of Patrick Martins, co-founder of Heritage Foods USA, "Small family farms need as much attention as possible, and an organization like AWI will help our farmers greatly."
Breaking the Trend
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the 20th century saw the disappearance of one third of the world's breeds of animals raised for food. That is because animals raised on factory operations are selected for uniformity, not diversity. The industry-bred turkey, for instance, suffers from skeletal deformities that may cause gait problems. Due to their oversized breasts, the birds are not able to reproduce naturally, so hens are artificially inseminated. We believe that breeding programs must select not only for certain "production" traits such as growth rate, but for characteristics such as good mothering abilities, sound skeletal structure and fitness, including the ability to mate naturally. Genetic variety is key.
On the Animal Welfare Approved Good Shepherd Turkey Ranches in Kansas, heritage turkey flocks forage on range, mate naturally and fly easily to roosts. In Wisconsin, Tony and Sue Renger's Berkshire pigs roam grassy slopes, and the Cates Family Farm beef cattle graze on green pastures. Throughout the Midwest, the family farmers who market pigs with Niman Ranch provide straw-bedded barns, pastures or woodlands. In North Carolina, Mike and Suzanne Jones' Farmers' Hybrid pigs root in the woodlands, Eliza MacLean's Ossabaw hogs cool off in the shade of pine trees, and pigs on small farms that market through William's Pork enjoy rich mud wallows. These are just some of the farms that have earned our seal.
Gathering and evaluating the Animal Welfare Approved standards was the result of years of work and dedication by Animal Welfare Institute staff, in collaboration with veterinarians, scientists and farmers. Our standards are constantly re-examined, so they remain up-to-date and true to their purpose of providing the ultimate humane care for animals on farms. But most of all, the Animal Welfare Approved label strengthens the power that comes from freedom of choice in the marketplace. In the fight against animal factories, every purchase counts.