The Truth Behind the Labels: Farm Animal Welfare Standards and Labeling Practices

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Short Description:
This report by Farm Sanctuary examines the labels on meat, milk and egg products and finds that although some farm animals handled under "certified" labeling schemes may suffer less than others, in totality their welfare is "still far from humane."

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows for the use of various labels to be used on animal products including "cage free," "free range," "free roaming," "pasture raised," "grass fed," "organic," "natural," and "naturally raised." Though many have informal definitions, compliance is inconsistent and currently not verified.
Trade associations have also developed voluntary industry guidelines, which reflect common industry practices preserving the status quo rather than redefining what is "humane." Further, most guidelines do appear on product labels.
Industry trade groups have also supported certain welfare standards through supplier preference, but these measures are modest and lack transparency.
A variety of third party certification standards have emerged including "Certified Humane," "American Certified Humane," "Animal Welfare Approved," and the "Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Program." Though they have established stronger industry guidelines, some still permit certain practices that allow animals to suffer, and they are not universally used.
In totality, these animal welfare programs have raised awareness of the issues among consumers, but the variation between programs and labels makes it difficult for consumers to know the extent of suffering endured. However, regardless of the welfare standard used, the life of any animal raised for food is cut short.
This report includes comparison charts of animal welfare standards by program for the beef, dairy, sheep pig, broiler chicken, and egg layer chicken segments.

Spot Check Number: 1051
Sponsor: Farm Sanctuary
Researcher/Author: Farm Sanctuary
Animal Type: Farm Animals
Research Method: Experimental/Modeling/Applications
Geographic Region: United States National
Population Descriptors: Product labels
Year Conducted: 2009

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