If you’d prefer to buy meat that’s been certified for humane animal treatment — meaning an outside authority has visited the farm to make sure it follows certain animal husbandry practices — look for the labels below.
Visit these organizations’ websites to find out where their products are sold. These organizations all have different animal welfare standards, so 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 engage in their natural behaviors (such as perching for laying hens and rooting for pigs). 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. The program’s parent organization, Humane Farm Animal Care, is a non-profit. Find Certified Humane products here.
Animal Welfare Approved
Meat, eggs, and dairy that feature the logo of Animal Welfare Approved come from animals 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 engage in natural behaviors. And 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 now a program of the umbrella group A Greener World, which also offers grass-fed and non-GMO certifications. Find Animal Welfare Approved products here.
Global Animal Partnership (GAP)
The GAP program differs from other humane certifications because it offers 5 different certification levels — or “steps.” The higher steps (3, 4, and 5) mean that a farm provides a more natural and less stressful life for its animals. The lower steps (1 and 2) require a farm to provide conditions that are closer to industrial agricultural practices.
Generally speaking, if you want chicken, pork, or beef raised in a pasture-centered way, look for GAP products labeled Step 4 or Step 5. If you’re ok with chickens and pigs being raised indoors, or beef cattle being raised for 1/3 of their life in feedlots, you can buy meat labeled at Step 1 or 2. Meat at Step 3 generally has some outdoor access (similar to “free range”). See the GAP website to better understand the step differences.
Currently, you will only find GAP-labeled meat at Whole Foods. The program was started by Whole Foods around 2007, when the chain wanted to sell higher-welfare meat. Today, all the fresh meat at Whole Foods stores must be GAP rated. Just keep in mind that there aren’t many producers who raise meat at Step 4 or Step 5; I have heard anecdotally that it is challenging to find meat at Steps 4 and 5 at Whole Foods.
American Humane Certified
Although it was the first humane certification program in the U.S., American Humane Certified has standards that are much closer to industrial practices than the standards of other humane certifications. Many in the humane farming community feel this program does not require farms to do enough for animal welfare. For example, chickens raised for meat are not required to go outside, indoor perches and nesting areas (enrichments) are only “encouraged,” and the minimum space requirement for an average-sized bird is just one square foot. Pigs must have a few enrichments in their pens, but they are not required to live anywhere but on a solid or slatted floor. This program does not appear to encourage free-range, pastured, or highly enriched environments.
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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).