The Truth behind “Humane” Labels

The Truth behind “Humane” Labels

Many people wonder if buying meat, milk, and eggs with labels like “cage-free,” “grass-fed,” or “free-range” is a humane option. They’re concerned about where their food comes from and genuinely want to make better choices. Unfortunately, these labels can be misleading and are not a guarantee of humane treatment.

  • Cage-free hens are subject to many of the cruelties inherent to battery cage systems. For instance, cage-free producers typically purchase hens from hatcheries, where male egg-type chickens are considered useless and killed at birth because they will not lay eggs and will not grow as large as chickens bred for meat. Hatcheries kill 260 million male chicks each year.
  • Just like caged hens, “cage-free” hens suffer de-beaking, in which a portion of the upper beak is amputated without pain relief. Also like caged hens, “cage-free” layers are kept only for a few years, until their productivity begins to decline. Then they are typically shipped to industrial slaughterhouses. Since poultry animals are excluded from the federal Humane Slaughter Act, packing plants are not required to render these animals unconscious before slaughter.
  • Though “cage-free” hens are not confined to battery cages, they may still be packed by the thousands into poorly ventilated, windowless warehouses. Undercover investigations have revealed “cage-free” hens commonly living indoors, packed so tightly that they can barely move or spread their wings.
  • USDA regulations do not specify the amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access provided to “free-range” animals. This means that a warehouse with thousands of “free-range” hens could have a single door leading to a small, enclosed outdoor area that hens would have to struggle to access.
  • “Grass-fed” labels indicate that animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, but USDA grass-fed stipulations do not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides, all of which are harmful to the environment and human health.
  • Organic dairy may be free of antibiotics and hormones, but it is not free of cruelty. Because cows produce milk only when pregnant or nursing, all dairy farms subject their cows to a relentless cycle of impregnation and birth. Their babies are taken away immediately, so that the milk can be collected for human use. Male calves, since they are of no use to the dairy industry, are sold for beef or veal.  When a cow’s milk production declines at an average of less than five years, she too is slaughtered for meat.
  • Investigations have shown that some organic milk producers keep cows confined indoors much of the time. Because the requirements for the “organic” label prohibit the use of many medicines, producers frequently allow cows to languish with ailments that otherwise could easily be treated.

To learn more about the truth behind labels, download our brochure The Truth Behind Humane Meat, Milk, and Eggs.