Chicken Farm

Photo: pidjoe/istock.com

The Issues

Humane Labels

Chicken Farm

Photo: pidjoe/istock.com

False Advertising

Certified Humane Egg Carton

Photo: Wild As Light/shutterstock.com

Today in the United States there are no federal laws protecting the billions of animals who suffer every day on farms destined to become food for Americans. Many well-intentioned people have growing concerns for the welfare of these animals—most who live in deplorable conditions, suffer from diseases that are left untreated, and are killed at a fraction of their lifespan—and wonder if purchasing products with “humane” labels, such as organic, free-range, or grass-fed, offer a better option to conventionally raised meat. Unfortunately, they do not.

Companies and advertisers take advantage of consumers’ worry for animals raised for food by creating upcharged, deceptive certifications and labels. Regardless of an animal’s enclosure increasing in size or what food they eat, most animals in the food industry will spend their lives in fear, suffer mutilations, and be slaughtered at a young age. Most animals from deceptively labeled farms will end up at conventional slaughterhouses alongside animals raised in factory farms.

Young cows at a dairy farm.
“ ‘Humane washing’ is the practice of making a misleading claim about the treatment of animals or the conditions in which they are born, raised, or killed.”
- The Animal Legal Defense Fund

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Facts

  • Dairy Farm and Tethering Taiwan 2019

    Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

  • The USDA’s

    definition of free range and free roaming is, "producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside."

  • Cows on organic dairy farms are still forcibly impregnated, and have their babies taken from them.

  • The United Egg Producers only require farms to have 1-1.5 square feet per hen in cage-free facilities.

  • Certified Humane labelling allows for slap marking, which is when they press a spiked metal plate with ink into a pig’s skin, without anesthesia.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The Truth Behind Humane Labels

Vertical explainer photo 1 - Pigs crowded on farm

Photo: chalermphon_tiam/shutterstock.com

humane hu·​mane | \ hyü-ˈmān, yü- \ (adjective): marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals

Oftentimes, humane label requirements are loosely defined and ill-regulated. Euphemisms are commonly used to embellish cruel practices. For example, Certified Humane does not allow identification methods such as ear-notching (cutting portions of a pig’s ear off) but does allow slap marking, which is when they press a spiked metal plate with ink into a pig’s skin, without any anesthesia.

Many animals raised on allegedly “humane” farms suffer from similar cruelties as animals raised on conventional farms. An investigation of a Whole Food’s meat supplier with purported “humanely-raised” pigs showed pigs kept in filthy, overcrowded pens, many left with untreated fevers and anal prolapses, and slaughtered at conventional slaughterhouses.

Pigs crowded on farm

Photo: chalermphon_tiam/shutterstock.com

humane hu·​mane | \ hyü-ˈmān, yü- \ (adjective): marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals

Oftentimes, humane label requirements are loosely defined and ill-regulated. Euphemisms are commonly used to embellish cruel practices. For example, Certified Humane does not allow identification methods such as ear-notching (cutting portions of a pig’s ear off) but does allow slap marking, which is when they press a spiked metal plate with ink into a pig’s skin, without any anesthesia.

Many animals raised on allegedly “humane” farms suffer from similar cruelties as animals raised on conventional farms. An investigation of a Whole Food’s meat supplier with purported “humanely-raised” pigs showed pigs kept in filthy, overcrowded pens, many left with untreated fevers and anal prolapses, and slaughtered at conventional slaughterhouses.

Cage-free Hens

Photo: David Tadevosian/shutterstock.com

Cage-free is not synonymous with cruelty-free. For instance, cage-free producers typically purchase hens from hatcheries, where male 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 in the United States.

While cage-free chickens are no longer stuffed into battery cages, they are generally packed into large sheds or warehouses with little space to move or perform natural behaviors, like dust-bathing. The United Egg Producers only require farms to have 1-1.5 square feet per hen in cage-free facilities.

Many cage-free chickens will also be debeaked or beak trimmed. This is a painful process where hot blades slice off the tip of their beak, a highly sensitive organ.

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.

Because of loose definitions of cage-free, consumers can never be sure what conditions an animal was raised in. For example, Trader Joe’s, a California-based grocery store, was sued for mislabeling cage-free eggs with images of chickens roaming on grassy fields. In reality, the hens raised on these farms were kept indoors with thousands of other birds and no access to the beautiful fields shown on the egg cartons.

Free-range chickens

Photo: Guitar photographer/shutterstock.com

The USDA’s definition of free-range states that “producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” There are no requirements of how much time they must spend outdoors or how much space they can access. “Free-range” farms can raise birds in sheds with a small door at the end of it that a chicken would have to wade through thousands of birds to get to. The door could be open for only a few minutes each day and the facility would still be considered “free-range.” Pasture-raised, pasture-grown, and free-roaming are similarly meaningless terms which remain vague and undefined by the USDA.

Mastitis cow

Photo: Dr.MYM/shutterstock.com

The term “grass-fed” elicits an incredibly misleading image. The grass-fed certification only requires producers to submit information about an animal’s diet and access to pasture, not their emotional or physical condition. Grass-fed cows may still receive antibiotics and hormones and can suffer from debilitating health problems, such as hoof lesions and mastitis.

Calf in pen

Photo: PeopleImages/istock.com

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 fewer 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.

What Can We Do?

Monty hen at Farm Sanctuary

Because 99% of animals raised for food in the United States come from animals raised conventionally or by deceptive marketing labels, it’s likely that any animal purchased from a grocery store or restaurant suffered to end up on our plates. The rise of “humane” labels goes to show that producers are recognizing consumers’ concern for the well-being of animals raised for food. However, these deceptive labels do not offer healthier, more humane options.

A great way to reduce farmed animal suffering is by transitioning to a vegan or plant-based diet. Eating a vegan diet can also improve your health, cut your carbon footprint, and decrease impact on workers. Check out our guide to plant-based eating, and then try out a vegan version of your favorite meal or find vegan options at your favorite restaurant and see how delicious it can be!

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