There are four organizations in the U.S. that certify farms for animal welfare. (Other organizations that certify farms include animal welfare in their standards, but it’s not their main focus.) Each of these four certifying organizations sends trained auditors to farms to make sure they’re following specific animal welfare practices. If a farm passes the audit, it can put the organization’s humane label on its packaging.
Look for these labels if a guarantee of animal welfare is important to you – just keep in mind that not all humane farmers choose to have their products labeled in this way. All four of these organizations have different animal welfare standards. 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.
American Humane Certified
Global Animal Partnership (GAP)
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).