Animal Welfare: setting the record straight

September 11, 2012

Confused about labeling regarding animal welfare? SupermarketGuru and the Animal Welfare Institute clears up the confusion here

SupermarketGuru is all for increasing transparency in food production as it is very important for food safety, traceability, sustainability and more. But what is most important to SupermarketGuru is smarter shopping! There are a lot of misleading food labels out there especially in terms of animal welfare and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) recently released a helpful guide for consumers to help decipher what’s important when reading labels.

In terms of animal welfare, AWI points out that there are many unverified claims – i.e. compliance is not verified on the farm by third-party audit. Here are some of their picks:
Cage Free (when used on eggs): hens may not be in cages but they are housed inside without outdoor access and may have very little space
Free Range/Free Roaming: these animals are allowed outdoor access for majority of their lives but size of outdoor space and amount of vegetation may be limited.
Grass Fed: this requires a diet of grass and forage (grain is prohibited), but animals may be confined to a feedlot. Antibiotics and hormones are allowed.
Pasture Raised: usually indicates higher level of welfare, similar to Certified Organic, but claim is not independently audited. Get to know your farmer if this is something you want to verify.

There are various certified labels that are defined by a formal set of publicly available animal care standards. Compliance is verified by a third-party audit.
Animal Welfare Approved
Features highest standards for animal welfare of any humane food certification program. Requires access to pasture or range for all animals. Producers must be family farmers. And more.

Certified Humane
Access to the outdoors is not required for meat birds, egg- laying hens, or pigs, but indoor environmental enrichment must be provided for these animals. Feedlots are permitted for beef production.

American Grassfed Certified
Requires continuous access to pasture and a diet of 100% forage (no grain). Feedlots are prohibited.

Want more information?
There are many more labels to be aware of; here is a great list from The Humane Society of the United States

AWI points out that, while unverified claims (cage free for eggs, free range, etc.) aren’t as reliable as certified labels, choose these products over products without any welfare claims, as the animals were likely raised under conditions that are in some measure above typical factory-farmed conditions.

When you shop at farmers markets ask farmers how their animals are raised; if you can, visit the farm.
We as consumers have the power to change the offerings at our local stores and restaurants. Ask questions and choose products that you believe are right for you; feel empowered to make more educated decisions, as your purchases will shape what is offered in store.

For more information see AWI’s complete Food Label Guide.