Promoting high welfare, animal-sensitive standards of animal husbandry in farming is a major objective of the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). In 1988, with assistance from farmers, veterinarians and ethologists who specialize in the natural behavior of farmed animals, AWI developed its first set of pig husbandry standards. In 1989, AWI obtained the first USDA-approved label for pork from pigs who were raised on family farms, able to roam free on pastures or in bedded pens, and lived without the routine use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent diseases associated with factory farming. In those days, the Department did not permit the use of the terms “humane” or “natural,” and labels had to specify the claims exactly. AWI called this program Pastureland Farms.
With the pork from one farm, AWI began a pilot study of consumer demand in an upscale supermarket chain in Minnesota, which was already selling free-range chicken and eggs. This effort was highly publicized in hog industry magazines. AWI soon found, however, the hog industry strongly opposed the idea of humanely raised pork. Opponents asked, “If you have to pay more for this, what does it say to consumers about our cheaper product?” Subsequently, the retailer pulled the products and the Pastureland Farms program was put on hold for several years.
Then, in 1997, AWI’s husbandry program was resurrected when an Iowa pig farmer approached the organization and asked if it would approve his farm. AWI visited the farm and found that it met all but two of AWI’s protocols, and after appropriate changes were made on the farm, AWI gave its approval. Additional pig farmers were approved and AWI began expanding the program to embrace other species. By 2006, AWI had about 500 participating farmers in the program.
In November of that year, AWI named the growing program Animal Welfare Approved and created a logo. The program’s standards were predicated on the principle of fitting the farming system to the animals, rather than the animal to the system. Animals could not be tail-docked, de-beaked or de-clawed to compensate for deficits in the environment or husbandry. Outdoor access was required for every farmed animal species. Environments had to be enriched with elements that enabled animals to behave naturally. For example, poultry had to be provided with roosts and nest-boxes and pasture to forage, ducks had to have access to water for swimming, and sows had to be able to build nests for delivering their piglets.
Over 9 billion chickens, pigs, cattle, turkeys, sheep, goats, ducks, and geese are bred, raised, and killed for food annually in America. Each is a social, feeling individual capable of experiencing pleasure. The vast majority, however, are only familiar with deprivation, fear, and pain.
The life of a farm animal involves breeding, raising, transport, and slaughter. Each phase offers the opportunity for cruelty or compassion. For each aspect of industrial production, alternative methods that are both humane and economical are possible.
The vast majority of farm animals are raised in conventional, industrial agriculture systems known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs (often referred to as “factory farms”). These systems are designed to maximize productivity and profit for the producer, but they create serious welfare problems for animals.
A very small but growing percentage of farm animals are raised on higher-welfare farms that allow the animals to exhibit more of their natural behaviors, get exercise, have extended access to the outdoors and fresh air, and be social with each other. Although the animals are raised for food, these farmers strive to provide them with a high quality of life during their lifetimes.
Our On The Farm section serves as a resource to those who want to learn about the differences in these types of farming systems and the impact they have on farm animal welfare.
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. Read more about how you can make more informed eating choices in our Know Your Food Labels section, or check out our Food Label Guide for detailed explanations on claims used on food packaging.