Shopping with Animal Welfare in Mind

December 15, 2010

SupermarketGuru is all for increasing transparency in food production as it is very important for food safety, traceability, sustainability and more.

SupermarketGuru is all for increasing transparency in food production as it is very important for food safety, traceability, sustainability and more. One of our 2011 predictions is that “humane” will replace other desires when shopping for animal products, adding yet another level to a transparent food system.

Products that are certified humane have to meet specific criteria at the farm level depending on the species. For example some of the “humane” requirements for egg laying hens include- cage free, no antibiotics in feed, vegetarian feed, and chickens are allowed natural environment for behaviors like preening and scratching. Although with the current production capacity, if all of us were buy only cage free eggs, the supply couldn’t sustain our needs. Perhaps it’s time for producers to think about more long term solutions to food production.

According to a Technomic study, well over half of consumers cited animal welfare as one of the most important social issues today; and context marketing reports that 69 percent of us will “pay more” for ethically produced products. 

In an exclusive interview with The Humane Society of the United States’ Matt Prescott, SupermarketGuru was able to further understand the current practices in humane food production specifically in eggs. Cage-free is currently the standard, “happy medium” in egg production, based on a rating system developed through a study at Wageningen University in the Netherlands in 2006. The study evaluated the welfare of poultry production systems for laying hens, and reviewed twenty-two production systems that ranged from cage systems to barn, aviary, and organic systems. 

Each system was rated on 25 different points, creating a thorough zero through ten rating system. Results demonstrate that cage systems ranked the lowest (worst) at zero, while the 12 hen system scored a perfect 10. Cage-free rated in the middle – therefore the “happy medium”- at 5.8. Free-range eggs rated at 6.1. A variety of retailers and food service eateries have made cage-free eggs standard. By 2015, all eggs sold in California by law must be cage-free. 

So how do we shop for humane products in the market? And what about rating systems for other species including beef and sow as well as broiler chickens? There is currently no standard rating system across the board for these species, when it comes to animal welfare, products are either certified humane or they are not. Various retailers including Whole Foods, SUPERVALU and Safeway have pledged to increase their standards for animal welfare when choosing suppliers. Feel free to ask the butcher in your market about animal welfare standards and what products are best for your individual needs. 

Whole Foods currently employs a five step animal welfare rating system designed by Global Animal Partnership. Chicken sold in the store are rated on a five step program, for example: a score of 1 is the lowest but ensures “no cages, no crowding” while a score of 5+ ensures “animal centered: entire life on same farm.” Similar ratings are available for beef and sows. 

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. 

Humane Society Consumer Friendly Definitions