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 distress 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, the knowledge required to navigate the complicated world of food labeling claims is not always easy to obtain. If consumers are not provided with clear information on the significance of animal-raising claims such as “free range” and “humanely raised,” they can be easily 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.
There are several options for finding higher-welfare animal products. First, check out the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) website and enter your location to determine if there are AWA products sold near you. You can also locate farmers markets throughout the country where you can meet farmers and learn about their animal raising practices. If you purchase animal products at Whole Foods Markets, please look for those labeled as Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Step 4, 5, or 5+.
The Cornucopia Institute’s organic egg and dairy scorecards can help you find products from higher-welfare farms. The scorecards include links to the farms’ websites to locate where to buy their products. You can also go to http://buyingpoultry.com and enter the name of a retailer near you to find information about the welfare standards associated with the poultry products it sells. If you cannot find higher welfare products in a store near you, please speak up and tell your local store that you would like to see these products on its shelves.
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.
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.
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 can receive USDA Process Verified approval for the claim. Even products from factory-farmed animals can carry the USDA PVP seal.