For people concerned about animal welfare, this is a brief look at some humane labels… what protections they include and what harmful practices remain.
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 conceal.
It’s important to note that while there are some higher welfare operations, the overwhelming majority of animals raised for food are factory farmed without even the pretense of improved conditions. The Sentience Institute estimates that (based on 2017 numbers) “70.4% of cows, 98.3% of pigs, 99.8% of turkeys, 98.2% of chickens raised for eggs, and over 99.9% of chickens raised for meat are living in factory farms.”
No synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizer, hormones, or antibiotics (except special circumstances)
- No GMOs or irradiation
- Feed must be organic
- Only government label
- Male chicks of egg-laying hens are not protected by label requirements. Male newborns are disposed of because they will not lay eggs and therefore don’t have economic value. Standard disposal practices include being ground alive (macerated) and being thrown into dumpsters to suffocate on top of each other.
- 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 kept perpetually pregnant and tied to stalls so they cannot move freely. They are slaughtered for cheap meat when their productivity declines.
- Some large organic dairies have been allowed to house cows without access to pasture.
Cage-Free & Free-Range
- Mostly synonymous, but technically, animals labeled free-range have some access to the outdoors.
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.
- Male chicks of egg-laying hens have no protection under this label and are therefore disposed of, commonly by suffocation or maceration.
- 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.
- Grass-fed ruminants produce three times more greenhouse gas emissions than grain-fed.
- 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 and their calves are taken away after birth for either for veal or dairy.
Deceptive because the USDA has already banned the use of hormones for birds and pigs.
- Hormones are not regulated in other animals.
- Offers no reduction in animal suffering.
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.
- 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.