Sometime in the last century, the way we raise the livestock we consume evolved rapidly. It changed with the growing industrial economy, and the industry shifted from small family farms to big factory farms, and for a long time most of us neglected how our animals were raised or what conditions they endured. Now, through the hard work of many animal welfare societies and the ever-increasing pool of information the Internet provides, the American public is finally becoming more aware of the inhumane conditions animals often face in factory farms before they become meat on the dinner table.
A lot of families no longer want to eat meat that is so unnaturally raised. Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) provides a Certified Humane label so shoppers can easily identify which foods were raised to an ethical standard. HFAC’s Certified Humane label seeks to have a chilling effect on the industries that still use inhumane and unnatural practices to grow animals for slaughter. Factory farms have provided cheap meat for decades, but the price cut comes at the expense of the animals’ wellbeing. Cows, pigs and chickens are frequently crated their entire lives, and given no space to move. Often, they are given feed that is filled with steroids to accelerate growth, and thus maximize the amount of animals that get processed for slaughter.
The Certified Humane label assures consumers that the meat they are eating was not raised in this fashion. From the birth to the death of the animal, producers who earn this label must allow their animals to do what they naturally do. That means no cages, crates or tie stalls. Chickens must be able to flap their wings and move around. Cattle are required to have at least four hours of exercise a day. Growth hormones are also prohibited, as are other inhumane practices like starving birds to induce molting. And all animals must be provided proper, high-quality feed that doesn't contain animal by-products or hormones.
While Certified Humane is the most ubiquitous label for humanely-raised meat, it is not the only one on the market. American Humane Certified requires many of the same requirements as the Certified Humane label, but its standards are a little less strict and less comprehensive. Producers with minor violations are given the chance to correct their mistakes so they can qualify for the label. While sow crates are permitted and outdoor access is not mandatory for any species, animals with the American Humane Certified label must still have access to fresh water and adequate food, same as the Certified Humane requirements.
On the far end of the spectrum, the Animal Welfare Approved label is far stricter than the Certified Humane label. Conferred by the Animal Welfare Institute, this label requires all animals to have outdoor access, even chickens and birds (which, under the Certified Humane label, can be raised in barns as long as they are given proper space). Practices like debeaking for birds and tail docking for pigs, also permissible under the Certified Humane label, are prohibited under the Animal Welfare Approved certification. In addition, producers who wish to earn this label must comply with a yearly inspection by the Animal Welfare Institute
This label is only issued to meat that comes from independent family farms, so it may be hard to find on the market. But you can be assured that any Animal Welfare Approved meat was raised under the most humane conditions required by any institute in the United States. Armed with these labels and the information they entail, you can go forth and shop savvy for humanely raised meat. With the growing amount of farms that are stepping up to comply with these standards, it should not be hard for the ethically-minded carnivore to find food that is nutritious and well raised.
Laura Holt, for Agrilicious!