What is humanely raised meat?

If only humanely raised had a clear meaning. Instead, farmers and food companies define it differently, depending on their knowledge and beliefs about animals. Which means you have to define it for yourself.

“Wait,” you’re thinking, I just want to go shopping and know what’s humane. Please tell me!”
I could, but try to determine what humanely raised means to you by clicking the green links below. Then go buy meat that matches your ethical standards.





What “humanely raised” can mean:

There are many different ways to raise farm animals humanely — click the green links below and choose the approaches that feel right to you:

Pasture-raised »

Pasture raised animals (all farm animals can be pasture raised) are allowed to live outdoors for a significant portion of their lives; they get fresh air and sunlight (meaning they get sick less often) and have more space to run in. Pigs and poultry are usually fed supplemental grain while on pasture.

If pasture raised is important to you, get details here on what labels to look for. “Free range” animals get to go outside but only for a short amount of time, and sometimes they’re just let onto dirt or concrete, not pasture.

Grass-fed »

heritage cow2Grass fed animals (only cows, sheep, and goats can be grass-fed) eat grass for all or part of their life; they usually eat this grass on pasture, though sometimes they live in barns and are just given hay. Grass is easier on the tender stomachs of cattle, sheep, and goats.

If grass fed is important to you, get details here on what labels to look for and which brands sell grass-fed meat. There is a big difference between “100% grass-fed” and just “grass-fed” so be informed.

Raised indoors with enrichments »

Enrichments are objects such as perches and nest boxes (for poultry) and hay nests or wallowing pits (for pigs) that allow indoor animals to engage in natural behaviors. (Think rubber balls and Frisbees for your dog, or string and laser toys for your cat — these are enrichments.)  “Enrichments” are often referred to on Global Animal Partnership (GAP) labels at Whole Foods and on humane certification labels. Ask farmers about enrichments used on their farms.

Raised without antibiotics »

Antibiotics in meat is more of a human health issue than an animal welfare issue, but if animals are being fed antibiotics, it’s usually a sign that they’re living in crowded facilities likely to make them sick (antibiotics prevent disease) or are eating an unnatural diet meant to fatten them quickly (antibiotics make animals grow fast). If this is important to you, look for organic labels or humane certification labels or “raised without antibiotics” (keeping in mind there are other humane factors to consider).

Processed (slaughtered) humanely »

It is indeed possible for animals to be slaughtered in ways that keep pain and stress to a bare minimum. But it’s nearly impossible to determine how farmers and food companies slaughter their animals; this information is never on meat packaging. Instead, ask farmers about their slaughter facility or look for the two humane certification labels that have slaughtering protocols. (Humaneitarian is currently putting together a page about processing.)


But let’s agree…

Even though “humanely raised” can be defined differently, it should never mean that:

  • Animals are raised in cages
  • Animals are raised in tightly crowded barns
  • Animals live without “enrichments” – objects that allow them to express natural behaviors
  • Animals are routinely given feed that risks making them sick

Unfortunately, nearly all animals raised for food in America are raised in these ways. Change will only happen as more people (such as yourself) choose alternative products. Consumer demand = change!


For more insight into farm animal welfare, check out Humaneitarian’s list of books & films.

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