Buying Animal Welfare Certified Food like beef, lamb, dairy, and eggs means different things to different people.
In this article, we take a birds-eye view of farm animal welfare standards and in particular, the labeling of consumer-packaged meat in a few key areas:
- Why buying Animal Welfare Certified meat really matters.
- Animal Rights versus Animal Welfare.
- Misleading terms used to imply or mislead Animal Welfare to consumers.
- What is Welfare Washing?
- Definition of 'Humanely Raised'
- The various Farm Animal Welfare Certification bodies.
- Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.).
Animal Welfare Certified Meat ~ Why it matters.
Trust. Buying meat that is Animal Welfare Certified by an accredited and recognized farm animal welfare body with a set of clear standards of welfare for animals, means that you are buying a meat product that you can trust as being verified on the farm to these standards.
Transparency. Buying Animal Welfare Certified shows your support to farm producers who have transparently opened their farm gates to outside inspection bodies, to prove they treat their livestock correctly, and to a measurable standard.
Animal Protection. Buying Animal Welfare Certified meat with a label / logo from a recognized welfare body means, you are supporting and protecting the living and feeding conditions of farm animals.
Quality. It is well accepted in agricultural science and veterinary medicine that animals in low-density, low-stress natural environments produce the very best quality meat to enjoy.
Animal Welfare For Consumers: Meaningful and Meaningless.
Meaningless Animal Welfare is buying a meat product that makes Animal Welfare claims on its label or website but without using any recognized Animal Welfare body to verify these claims is essentially meaningless and almost certainly does nothing to improve the lives of the farm animals.
This is ‘Welfare Washing’ designed by the producer or brand to mislead and make the consumer feel they are buying into a welfare standard when in fact there are none at all.
Meaningful Animal Welfare is buying a meat product that is certified and passed by an accredited welfare body to a set of standards that protects the welfare and health of the farm animals.
In turn, the animal welfare agency allows its logo to be displayed on the product label on a licensed basis, as long as the producer meets the animal welfare standards.
The consumer is buying into a set of standards that the producer is held accountable to.
What is ‘Welfare Washing’?
'Welfare Washing' or 'Humane Washing' is falsely misleading consumers into believing a product meets a high standard of Animal Welfare protection when in fact the product meets no animal welfare standards at all, and no independent third party has verified the claim.
Welfare washing is created to lull consumers into purchasing products that they believe meet certain animal welfare criteria. Currently, here in the US, and to the detriment of farm animals, there are no laws to prevent this practice.
Animal Welfare versus Animal Rights
We get asked a lot through email and direct messages: “What is the difference between animal welfare and animal rights?”
Animal Welfare is an area of agricultural science that believes if animals are to be raised to provide food, raised as pets or as working animals, there is an obligation to ensure these animals are recognized as sentient, treated with respect, and allowed to live in a way that reflects their natural habitat.
The Animal Rights movement, on the other hand, believes that the use of animals for food, as pets, or working animals is not acceptable in any form. They believe animals in captivity are not acceptable. Animal rights believers would generally align or even identify as vegan or vegetarian for the same ethical reasons.
Humanely Raised ~ What does this mean?
‘Humanely Raised’ is the single most common term used by many meat and poultry producers yet it is meaningless, not enforced in any way, and is not even legally defined to any standards by the USDA (The USDA, oversees the Meat, Poultry, and Dairy Industry) or the ASPA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
This means any producer can use the term ‘Humanely Raised’ and many generally do so.
Use extreme caution when you see ‘Humanely Raised’ printed on any packaging or marketing materials.
The term ‘Humanely Raised’ has been overused so much in the USA in recent years, it has entered the popular lexicon of conscientious US consumers who are being misled when they see this printed on a pack of meat and make a purchase, believing they are supporting an animal welfare cause by buying ‘Humanely Raised’ when sadly they are not.
In a settled lawsuit dating back as far as 2014 between Perdue Farms and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Perdue agreed the term "Humanely Raised" was indeed misleading, did not reflect the conditions of the farm animals they slaughtered, and agreed to remove the term "Humanely Raised" from all its packaging and advertising. Yet the term 'Humanely Raised' is used even more in 2021!
Tip: If you see the words ‘Humanely Raised’ used on a meat label without any form of certification agency logo to accompany it, you can be sure you are being misled by ‘Welfare Washing’.
Animal Welfare Terms and Claims to Beware of on Food Labels:
Here is a list of the most commonly (mis) used ‘Welfare Washing’ terms and words you will see on many product packaging, marketing, and websites of many meat producers in the USA.
These terms are all heavily used to appeal to the emotions of consumers. These terms are unregulated, have no legal standing, are highly misleading, are completely meaningless, and go unchecked by any agency or certifying body.
If you are a consumer that values Animal Welfare standards, keep walking if you see any of the following being used:
- Ethically Raised
- Humanely Raised
- Responsibly Raised
- Thoughtfully Raised
- Naturally Raised
- Humanely Handled
- Raised by Hand
- Traditionally Raised
Using these words as standalone claims without any form of certification agency logo to accompany any of these words is ‘Welfare Washing’ and should not be believed.
Where to buy Humanely Raised Meat and How to Buy?
If you only see the words ‘Humanely Raised’ on the label, do not trust this unregulated term. This is a producer and/or brand trying to mislead you.
Ensure you buy from a meat producer or a brand that has used an accredited third-party farm animal welfare body to check and verify the livestock has passed their set of welfare standards.
After passing these set of welfare standards, the meat producer is then allowed to display the logo of the welfare body on their label and marketing materials ~ to inform you (the consumer) that their livestock and farm conditions have met the standards set out by the welfare body.
Main Farm Animal Welfare Certification Bodies in the USA
Once you know what you are looking for, where to buy is the easy part. Most good health food stores, reputable grocery stores, and ethically minded online companies will carry meat that has been certified by any of these main animal welfare agencies.
Is Wagyu Beef Humanely Raised Beef?
While some Wagyu producers may claim their Wagyu beef is ‘Humanely Raised’, there is no credible animal welfare body in the world that would certify and pass Japanese raised Wagyu Beef to any recognized standard of welfare.
This is due to the cramped living conditions, force-feeding, and lack of exercise the Wagyu cattle are subjected to in order for the cattle to gain fat.
There are however some Australian, British, and American farms that raise Wagyu Cross breeds on grass and pasture which have passed welfare inspections and carry the licensed logo of a recognized animal welfare body.
Animal Welfare Certified: All standards are not created equal
All recognized Farm Animal Welfare certifying bodies are independent of each other and therefore have their own set of standards and criteria.
Some welfare bodies are more strict than others, and some have lower bars to pass or fail to meet their minimum requirements.
In the context of this article, the three welfare certifying bodies widely accepted as the strictest, and with the most comprehensive set of animal welfare standards are: Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) and Animal Welfare Approved by AGW and Certified Humane
Global Animal Partnership. Setting the Standard.
Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) aka GAP, has an extremely high set of tiered standards (or Steps) with Step 4 and Step 5 as an extremely high bar with a high failure rate.
G.A.P. certified products with the G.A.P. logo are not as widespread in stores simply due to its high standards and high failure rate for G.A.P. Step 4 and above.
Global Animal Partnership- What makes it unique?
- To avoid conflict of interest, Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) uses independent third-party inspectors from outside the G.A.P. organization to inspect all farms.
- G.A.P. inspects 100% of the animals on 100% of the farms it certifies otherwise, they will not certify! G.A.P. also inspects in different seasons, and inspectors arrive at short notice.
- G.A.P. uses a tiered step program to encourage farms to start even at the lowest level of accountability and standards then move up the tiered system as the farm improves its protocols which GAP advises them on. G.A.P. calls this ‘Continuous Improvement’.
What Label Guarantees Animals Are Raised Outdoors on Pasture?
Due to poor oversight and meat / dairy label laws, It is estimated that the majority of beef labeled as ‘Grass-fed’ beef is in fact grain-finished, has been on a feedlot, or only part grass-fed at best. Look for these three logos as a means of verification that you are in fact buying and eating real grass-fed beef.
- The term "Humanely Raised" is meaningless and has no basis in law and is not regulated.
- Beware of food brands that use the term "Humanely Raised" on their packaging or marketing without any independent 3rd party body to verify the welfare standards of their farm animals.
- Ensure you buy products with the logo displayed from recognized farm animal welfare bodies that do inspect farm operations.
- 'Welfare Washing' or 'Humane Washing' is becoming more common in the food industry to purposely mislead conscientious consumers.
- Due to extreme feeding / holding practices, Japanese Wagyu beef without doubt has no farm animal welfare standards.
- 3 NGOs in the USA i.e., GAP, AGW, and American Grass-fed Association also inspect and verify if farm animals live outdoors.