If you’d prefer to buy meat that’s been certified for humane treatment — meaning an outside authority has audited the farm to make sure it follows certain animal-rearing practices – look for the labels below. They belong to the 4 different organizations in the U.S. that act as “humane certifiers” for farms that choose to be audited for animal welfare. (FYI, not all humane farms choose to be humane certified.)
Meat with these labels can be found at many food co-ops, natural food stores, Whole Foods, and even at some mainstream grocery stores. All four of these organizations have different animal welfare standards, so read on to compare!
Meat, dairy and eggs that feature the Certified Humane label come from animals that were never housed in cages, crates or tie stalls. Animals are given space to exhibit their natural behaviors (such as perching and dustbathing for laying hens and rooting for pigs) and adequate shelter and resting areas. Certified Humane is one of only two humane certifiers that require certain slaughter practices.
Certified Humane animals are not required to be pastured (though they might be), and not all Certified Humane poultry systems are free-range, meaning the birds don’t necessarily go outside. As stated on their website, “Welfare is more important to us than the farming system involved – and free-range does not automatically guarantee improved welfare… We [have] found that appropriately designed and well managed indoor systems can equally satisfy an animal’s key requirements.” Read more about their standards here.
Adele Douglas launched Certified Humane in 2003, after working as a Congressional staffer and animal welfare lobbyist. The program’s parent organization, Humane Farm Animal Care, is a non-profit funded by grants and donations. Of the roughly 10 billion farm animals raised for meat in 2012, 76.8 million were raised under Certified Humane standards. Find Certified Humane products here.
Animal Welfare Approved
Meat, eggs, and dairy that feature the logo of Animal Welfare Approved come from animals that were raised primarily or completely outdoors, either on pasture or range. This is unique; other humane certifiers don’t have a pasture requirement (except for Steps 4 and 5 in the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) program). For this reason, AWA is considered to be the most rigorous certification program for animal welfare.
AWA also requires that no animals be kept in cages, crates or tie stalls. They must be allowed to exhibit natural behaviors. And breeds chosen for a farm must be well-suited to that farm’s weather conditions. AWA is one of only two humane certifiers that require certain slaughter practices. Read more about their standards here. What makes AWA unique, in addition to the pasture requirement, is that it does not charge farmers for certification, and only family farms can participate.
AWA is headed by Andrew Gunther, who writes and speaks on animal welfare issues. It is a program of the non-profit Animal Welfare Institute and was founded in 2006. Find Animal Welfare Approved products here.
Global Animal Partnership (GAP)
The GAP program differs from the other humane certifiers in that it offers 5 different certification levels — or steps — at which a farm can be certified. The higher steps (3, 4, and 5) mean that a farm provides a more natural and less stressful life for its animals. The lower steps (1 and 2) require a farm to provide better-than-standard conditions, but they are closer to industrial agricultural practices.
Generally speaking, if you want chicken, pork, or beef raised in a pasture-centered way, look for GAP products labeled Step 4 or Step 5. If you’re ok with chickens and pigs being raised indoors, or beef cattle being raised for 1/3 of their life off pasture/range, you can buy meat labeled at Step 1 or 2. Meat at Step 3 generally has some outdoor access (similar to “free range”). To understand the step differences, see the GAP website. (Standards for turkey are currently being developed, as are slaughter standards.)
Currently, you will only find GAP-labeled meat at Whole Foods. The program was initiated by Whole Foods around 2007, when the chain wanted to begin selling higher-welfare meat. Today, all the fresh meat at Whole Foods stores must be GAP rated, meaning there is no standard factory farmed meat for sale there. As for the GAP program, it is an independent non-profit that plans to eventually open up the 5-step system for use by other stores.
American Humane Certified
Many food companies that make humane claims on their packaging use internal animal welfare audits to check on the farms they buy from, rather than use one of the four independent humane certifiers. We, as consumers, have no choice but to trust those internal audits.
If you'd rather have an outside, independent authority check on the meat you eat, buy from companies and farms whose products feature one of the labels listed on this page. Or buy certified organic meat, which also has been audited by an independent organization (however, animal welfare is not the focus of organic production).