Here is a list of major American food companies that raise animals differently than factory farms do. Click on the green links below to get an overview of these companies, which tend to use one of the following labels: grass-fed, pasture-raised, free range, organic, or humane certified.
Note: A brand’s presence on this page does not indicate endorsement by Humaneitarian, nor have I independently verified any company’s claims.
Applegate (store locator here) buys meat from nearly 1,000 farms and mainly sells deli meat, hot dogs, and frozen products. Their meat is either certified organic or natural — the animals are raised differently under these two categories, with certified organic requiring more for animal welfare. About 90% of all Applegate beef (both organic and natural) is 100% grass-fed. This grass-fed beef is sourced from either Australia or Uruguay because, as a senior employee at Applegate explained, the U.S. “does not have enough land to do pastured, grass-fed beef affordably at the volumes that Applegate uses.” Applegate beef products include organic hot dogs, sliced roast beef, and frozen organic beef burgers. Online ordering is available.
Niman Ranch (no store locator; find their products at Whole Foods and small grocery stores) was a pioneer in sustainable and humane animal farming. Today, their beef cattle are pasture-raised until the last 3 to 5 months of their lives, when they’re “finished” on corn (so they’re not 100% grass-fed). Most of Niman’s cattle are finished on the land they were raised on; the rest are sent to small- or medium-sized feedlots. Niman follows its own humane handling standards; their beef sold at Whole Foods is third-party certified at GAP Level 4. Online ordering is available.
The farms that sell to Organic Prairie are primarily located in the Midwest, but store availability is nationwide (store locater here). Animals are raised according to the federal organic standards, which means cattle are pastured during the grazing season, even when they’re being “finished” on grain. Organic Prairie finishes their cattle on corn and small grains during the last three months of their lives; this takes place on the same farm where they were grazed. The company sells ground beef, hot dogs, beef summer sausage, and various steaks and roasts. It is affiliated with Organic Valley, and online ordering is available.
Chicken & Turkey
Applegate (store locator here) buys meat from nearly 1,000 farms and mainly sells deli meat, hot dogs, and frozen products. Their meat is either organic or natural — the animals are raised differently under these two categories. Organic chickens and turkeys are given access to the outdoors during the day, similar to the free-range model; natural turkeys and chickens remain indoors in spaces that allow them to forage and perch. Applegate chicken products include organic chicken hot dogs, deli turkey breast and chicken, organic and natural turkey bacon, organic turkey burgers, organic chicken & turkey sausages, and natural frozen chicken products. Online ordering is available.
Bell & Evans (store locator here) sells organic and conventional poultry. This write-up only refers to their organic line. The organic chickens and turkeys, all raised in Pennsylvania, are free-range, meaning the birds get access to grassy outdoor areas, weather permitting. Indoors, they’re kept in sunlit facilities on wood shavings, and given straw bales, balls, buckets, and other enrichments to interact with. (The company declines to publicly share the number of square feet that each bird is allowed.) All of Bell & Evans’ operations are humane certified at GAP Level 2.
Coleman Organic (store availability here) is a division of Perdue and the largest certified organic chicken producer in the country. You might see Coleman Natural in stores, but this write-up only refers to the organic line, as the natural line follows more conventional methods of raising birds. Coleman Organic chickens are raised according to the federal organic standards, which means the birds are let outside for part of each day, weather permitting. Farms provide sun shades to ease the transition from inside to out, making it more likely the birds will choose to move to the outdoor areas, which are part dirt, part pasture. Inside the barns, space allotment is 1 square foot per bird, only slightly higher than the industry average. Perches are provided, as well as barrels and boxes in which the chickens can retreat.
Murray’s (store locater here) is based in the Hudson Valley of New York state and sells fresh chicken and turkey, plus an array of chicken products (including an intriguing “chicken bacon”). All of their products are Certified Humane and antibiotic-free. The company contracts with 72 farms in Pennsylvania that raise birds indoors. Birds are allowed to perch and take dust baths, and the facilities have large windows to let in fresh air. On its website, the company shares its belief that letting birds outside increases their risk of getting avian flu. But there are many farmers who raise birds outside and do not believe this is a threat. We’ll find out more about this debate and present it on Humaneitarian.
The farms that sell to Organic Prairie are primarily located in the Midwest, with store availability nationwide (store locater here). Animals are raised according to the federal organic standards, which require that poultry get access to the outdoors, though the amount of time is not specified. Organic Prairie gives its chickens all-day access to areas that include both pasture and bare ground; indoors, they get 1 square foot of space (slightly more than what non-organic, industrial facilities provide), while turkeys get 2 square feet of space. Organic Prairie sells chicken hot dogs, chicken sausage, turkey bacon, whole turkeys, and many other poultry products. It is affiliated with Organic Valley, and online ordering is available.
Smart Organic Chicken is from the Midwest and is sold in nearly every state (store locator here). It is Certified Humane, meaning the chickens are given more space than in factory farms and are provided with environmental enrichments, such as perches. Because this brand of chicken is also certified organic, birds have access to the outdoors (free-range); all of the outdoor areas are pasture, according to the company. The chickens are mostly Robb or Cross breeds, raised on 5 (presumably large) farms. Smart Chicken is owned by Nebraska-based Tecumseh Farms. Note that there is a line of Smart Chicken that is not organic/Certified Humane, so don’t get confused. Online ordering is available.
Applegate (store locator here) buys meat from nearly 1,000 farms and mainly sells deli meat, hot dogs, and frozen products. Their meat is either organic or natural — the animals are raised differently under these two categories. Their organically raised pigs are given access to the outdoors (either pasture or lot) where there is bedding for them to nest and root in. Natural pigs are raised indoors, also on bedding where they can nest and root. No Applegate pigs are raised in gestation crates, breeding crates, farrowing crates, or crates of any kind. Applegate pork products include natural pork & beef hot dogs, organic and natural Sunday bacon, natural Canadian bacon, organic salami, organic and natural deli ham, organic kielbasa, and natural frozen breakfast sausages. Online ordering is available.
Niman Ranch (no store locator; find their products at Whole Foods and small grocery stores) was a pioneer in sustainable and humane animal farming. All of their pigs are raised either outdoors or on deeply bedded pack (hay) in open-sided barns, which allows them to root and nest. Pigs remain in the same group all their lives. Niman follows its own humane handling standards; its slaughtering process for pigs includes the use of CO2, which renders the animals sleepy and unaware as they’re moved into the slaughtering area. Niman pork sold at Whole Foods is certified at GAP Level 1, but a number of Niman farmers raise pork at a higher GAP level. The company offers a line of processed pork products such as bacon, ham and sausage. Online ordering is available.
The farms that sell to Organic Prairie are primarily located in the Midwest, with store availability nationwide (store locater here). Animals are raised according to the federal organic standards, which require that pigs be given access to the outdoors, though the amount of time is not specified. Some Organic Valley pigs are pastured continuously, while others are raised indoors on deep bedded pack and allowed outdoors intermittently. Organic Prairie sells bacon, ham, breakfast sausage, ground pork, pork chops, and other cuts. It is affiliated with Organic Valley, and online ordering is available.
Vermont Smoke and Cure (no online store locator) has three product lines. Their Vermont-grown line of ham, bacon and sausage bears the label “5 Knives” and is made from pastured pork raised on a small Vermont farm. The company’s natural line uses pork from a Quebec farm that is Certified Humane, as well pork from Coleman Natural Meats. Their traditional line uses conventional pork – no humane claim is made, so these products are not distinct enough to be featured on Humaneitarian. Keep in mind that despite the presence of “Vermont” in the company’s name, not all of its meat is from Vermont, though it is all processed in the state.
Niman Ranch (no store locator; find their products at Whole Foods and small grocery stores) was a pioneer in sustainable and humane animal farming. Niman’s lambs are raised on pasture in California, Idaho and Utah. They’re finished on grain and dried grasses during the last [checking on number] months of their lives (so they’re not 100% grass-fed). The handful of sheep ranchers that Niman works with practice rotational grazing. Niman lamb is not available in stores but can be found in some restaurants. Online ordering is available.
Strauss (no store locator but you can email the company to find its products) raises some of its veal calves on pasture and allows them to nurse on their mother and live with a herd. This is very different from the approach used by factory farms, in which young calves are put in crates in which they can never turn around. Veal raised on pasture is sometimes called “rose veal” or “pink veal” — the opposite of white-colored factory veal. In addition to using pasture-based methods, Strauss raises its calves in group situations, allowing for the animals to engage in natural behaviors. The company uses the term “Free Raised” and apparently has trademarked it, so you won’t see this label elsewhere. You can find their veal at some Whole Foods. Strauss also sells lamb but keep in mind that it is grain-finished, not fully pastured.
A note about grocery stores…
Grocery stores often sell their own brand of meat, with the store’s name and logo. This is called “private label” meat. As with any meat you buy, a private-label product should feature one of the 5 major labels that indicate how the animals were raised. Here are two popular supermarket chains that deserve a bit more explanation:
Most supermarket chains buy from large food companies or farming cooperatives. But co-op grocery stores and natural food stores are small enough to source from individual farms that might be located near you. To find your local co-op, see the list maintained by the Co-op Directory Service.
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