The Humane Scale

November 09, 2010

The Lempert Report has discussed the importance of transparency in food production as it relates to food safety, traceability, sustainability and more.

The Lempert Report has discussed the importance of transparency in food production as it relates to food safety, traceability, sustainability and more. Most recently we predicted that “humane” will replace other consumer desires when shopping for animal products, adding yet another level to a transparent food system. According to a Technomic study, well over half of consumers cited animal welfare as one of the most important social issues we face today. Context marketing reports that 69 percent will “pay more” for ethically produced products. Clearly an issue consumers care deeply about and are willing to pay more for, humane should be top of mind for food retailers. What we need are standard rating systems in place across the board to ensure humane products are not only easily identifiable but the ratings themselves are easily understood.
In an exclusive interview with The Humane Society of the United States’ Matt Prescott, we were 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. Presently the “gold standard” rating system is based on a Wageningen University study conducted 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 at zero, while the 12 hen system scored a perfect 10.  Cage-free rated in the middle 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. 
But 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. Consumers can choose from a range of products based on how and what the animals were fed, but 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.  
Whole Foods is taking a leadership position with a five step animal welfare rating system designed by Global Animal Partnership. Customers can decide on broiler chickens 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. 
The Lempert Report sees a clear need for an industry standard for welfare in animal product production and allowing consumers access to these rating systems. A huge opportunity for in-store promotion which will only increase your reputation as a committed retailer reinforcing transparency and will also empower consumers to make more educated decisions.  
Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 
full text

Special thanks to The Humane Society of the United States’ Paul Shapiro for information used in this article
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