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Certified Humane

Unfortunately, "cage-free" is not analogous to "free range."

Unfortunately, “cage-free” is not analogous to “free range.”

What does it mean when an animal product is labeled Certified Humane Raised and Handled®? The Certified Humane Animal Care Standards states:

  • Animals are allowed to engage in their natural behaviors.
  • Animals are raised with sufficient space, shelter, and gentle handling to limit stress.
  • Cages, crates, and tie stalls are forbidden.
  • Animals have access to ample fresh water and a healthy diet without added antibiotics or hormones.
  • Animals are sufficiently protected from the weather.
  • Managers and caretakers are thoroughly trained, skilled, and competent in animal husbandry and welfare.

The Certified Humane Raised and Handled® program is the only farm animal program that is dedicated to improving the welfare of farm animals from birth to slaughter. Producers who are certified under the program may use the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® logo on their packaging.

What Is in a Name?

There are a number of labels used in the meat, dairy, and egg industries to identify how the animals or their products were produced. These labels also make marketing claims that we, as consumers, need to understand. For instance, what do “cage-free,” “free-range,” “free roaming,” “grass fed,” “organic,” and “natural,” among other terms, mean? Some of these terms are accepted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through testimonials and documentation supplied only by the producers. Therefore, it is the producer who determines the meaning of the term. Only two terms, “cage-free” and “certified organic” are verified by the USDA directly. The following are terms used to describe animal products raised for human consumption.

What does “antibiotic-free” mean?
The term “no antibiotics added” may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the USDA demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics. Antibiotic drugs are routinely given to factory farmed animals in an attempt to stave off disease and illnesses caused mainly due to intensive breeding and rearing of animals. According to the CDC, the use of antibiotics in factory farmed animals may be a contributing factor in the emergence of dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

What does “cage-free” mean?
Cage-free hens are not confined to battery cages. While cage-free is a step toward more humane standards, it does not mean that hens are free-range. Many cage-free farms simply replace cages with overcrowded sheds, where thousands upon thousands of birds endure enormous physical, emotional, and psychological harm. Until “cage-free” is more clearly defined and federally regulated, many consumers may be misled to believe that a cage-free purchase is a humane choice. The best way to ensure humane treatment of egg-laying hens is to reduce or eliminate egg consumption.

What does certified mean?
The term “certified” implies that the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Agriculture Marketing Service have officially evaluated a meat product for class, grade, or other quality characteristics (e.g., “Certified Angus Beef”). When used under other circumstances, the term may be closely associated with the name of the organization responsible for the “certification” process, e.g., “XYZ Company’s Certified Beef.”

What does free-range or free-roaming mean?
Producers must demonstrate to the USDA that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside. Unfortunately, these terms may be used loosely to define factory farming housing that does not confine the animals to cages and crates. While free-range production is a step away from cruelty and toward more humane standards, it does not mean that farmed animals do not suffer. Many free-range farms overcrowd animals into massive sheds, barns, feedlots, and stockyards, where the animals endure enormous physical, emotional, and psychological harm. Until free-range is more clearly defined and federally regulated, many consumers may be misled to believe that a free-range purchase is a humane choice. The best way to ensure humane treatment of animals is to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet and reduce or eliminate animal consumption.

There are no government regulations requiring the labeling of any animal products raised from genetically modified or cloned animals; however, some food companies are now labeling their foods “non-gmo” (meaning the product was made without any genetically modified organisms) to give the public an option.

What does “grass-fed” or “pasture-raised” mean?
Although these two terms seem to indicate the animals are out blissfully grazing in the noonday sun, the terms are misleading. There are no regulatory definitions of these terms. Producers can simply let their animals out for an hour or less to graze on land that is hard packed from the sheer numbers of animals grazing on it and still label their product “grass fed.”

What does “hormone-free” mean in pork and poultry?
Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork and poultry unless it is followed by the statement, “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

What does “hormone-free” beef mean?
The term “no hormones administered” may be approved for use on the label of beef products if sufficient documentation is provided to the USDA by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.

What does “naturally-raised” mean?
The labels “natural” and “naturally raised” have nothing to do with where the animals are raised, only that they have not been given any antibiotics, animal by-products, or synthetic growth hormones. Animal products labeled “natural” or “naturally raised” could have come from animals confined to cages and crates with no opportunity to perform natural behaviors.

What does “certified organic” or “organic” mean?
Certified Organic is a designation the USDA gives to animal products from animals who are given access to the outdoors, regardless of how limited that access may be or what quality of life they have outdoors. According to the USDA, products labeled “100 percent organic” must contain organically produced ingredients; those labeled “organic” must consist of 95 percent organically produced ingredients.

Take Action to Protect Animals and Your Health
What can you do to be a better consumer of animals and animal products?

  • Substitute veggie and soy-based products for animal products as part of a vegetarian or vegan diet.
  • Visit a farm sanctuary and get to know the sentient creature these animals truly are.
  • Learn more about factory farming and educate others.
  • Support legislation to require stricter regulation and enforcement of animal farming welfare and treatment laws.
  • Find local and organic farms—know where your food is coming from.
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