Humane Facts: Labels & Loopholes

See also: Farming Size and Methods

Food producers are capitalizing on the public's concern for animal welfare by changing some of their most egregious practices OR implying that they have changed.

This section explains what some of the most popular labels include and some of the standard operating abuses they are hiding.

It's important to note that only organic labels are regulated. None of the other labels are created or enforced by the government and some are industry created and can be misleading to increase profits.


  • No synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizer, hormones, or antibiotics (except special circumstances)
  • No GMOs or irradiation
  • Feed must be organic
  • Only government label

Hidden Abuses

  • Newborn male chicks of egg-laying hens are not cost-effective or protected by label requirements, thus they are suffocated, gassed, ground alive (macerated), or otherwise disposed of
  • Chickens raised for meat may be kept in continual lighting, with no rest and excessive eating. This results in accelerated growth rates and skeletal problems
  • Dairy cows may be tied to stalls so they cannot move freely.
  • Some large organic dairies have been allowed to house cows without access to pasture


  • Technically, animals labeled free-range have access to the outdoors. 
  • Essentially free-range is synonymous with cage-free and free-roaming since clear standards have not been established.

Hidden Abuses

  • These labels hold no assurance that the animals are treated humanely.
  • There are no limits on flock size or density.
  • Access to the outdoors may be severely restricted and poorly designed. It  may be a small dirt lot that is difficult for chickens to access and does not provide space for them to engage in their instinctive behaviors such as pecking for food and dust-bathing.


  • Egg-laying birds are not caged. 
  • Some ability to perform natural functions such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings.

Hidden Abuses

  • Only applies to egg-laying hens.
  • Is deceptively used on chicken or turkey "meat" packages as these birds are typically un-caged before transport and/or slaughter.
  • No requirements on stocking density. Birds are typically crowded by the thousands in large barns, with approximately one square foot allotted for each bird.
  • Male chicks have no protection under this label and are therefore "disposed" of by means of: suffocation, gassing and grinding. 
  • Virtually all hens slated for egg production have the ends of their beaks removed without anesthesia.


  • Applies to cows and other ruminant animals.
  • Cattle are fed grass diets as opposed to corn and soy.
  • Provides access to the outdoors and ability to engage in grazing

Hidden Abuses

  • This diet does not significantly reduce the green house gas emissions and global warming damage done by raising cattle.
  • Surgical procedures without pain medicine are permitted.
  • Label may include a fine print regarding "grain-finished" which means the cattle may still spend time in a feedlot.
  • Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated (in what the industry calls 'rape racks), and their calves are taken away after birth for either for veal or dairy.


  • Deceptive on labels because the USDA has already banned the use of hormones for birds and pigs.

Hidden Abuses

  • Hormones are not regulated in other animals.
  • Offers no reduction in animal suffering.

Humane Certifications

  • There are a wide variety of humane (or similar) certifications. These may be government, third-party, nonprofit, or the industry's self-certification. Be especially wary of industry self-certifications and industry "standards."
  • These labels often (but not necessarily) prohibit severe over-crowding and confinement such as cramped cages, gestation crates, or veal crates.
  • Many prohibit the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics.

Hidden Abuses

  • Male chicks of egg-laying hens may be macerated or thrown away (where they suffocate under the weight of each other).
  • Generally, do not monitor "stocking density" to protect from extreme over-crowding.
  • May not require outdoor access for chickens or pigs.
  • Debeaking of chickens and tail amputation of pigs are permitted without pain medication.

See also: Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary