East Bay Edition

Animal Welfare Lexicon

Deciphering the significance of food labels can be daunting, particularly when seeking to understand what they mean for animal welfare. Legally, there is no definition of humane, which means that industry organizations are left to define this and other terms themselves. Certified organic animals and free-range birds must be allowed outdoor access, yet these standards do not define the amount, duration or quality of access required.

The Cage-Free label indicates that eggs came from hens that were never confined to a cage and have had unlimited access to food, water and the freedom to roam. The reality is that most cage-free hens spend their entire lives in a shed where, due to overcrowding, they have barely more space than caged birds. Also, under all labels, it’s standard industry practice to kill the male chicks born to the egg industry. The Cage-Free label is particularly misleading when placed on anything other than egg cartons, because chickens raised for meat are never caged.

Under most of the common labels, including Certified Organic, Cage-Free and Free-Range, physical mutilations such as horn removal, tail docking, debeaking and castration are permitted, and in most cases, providing pain relief is not required during these procedures.

Animals form strong bonds with their young, yet the routine practice of separating mothers from their young is standard under all labels. Whether an animal is raised for meat or for other products such as dairy or eggs, most agricultural animals will eventually be slaughtered at a fraction of their natural lifespan. Animals such as dairy cows and egg-laying hens are killed when their production declines. Veal (the meat of a baby cow) is considered to be a byproduct of the dairy industry, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 2,000 calves are slaughtered each day in the U.S.

Be wary of the unregulated Humanely Raised label and the American Humane Certified label, which offer little improvement over the standard factory farming practices that many consumers abhor. The Certified Humane label, a program of Humane Farm Animal Care, and the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) label, which uses a five-tier rating system for products, are more stringent about living conditions and have some limitations on physical mutilations. Both labels also go beyond the protections of the Humane Slaughter Act, requiring the butchery of cattle, pigs and sheep to comply with certain standards developed in partnership with Temple Grandin and the North American Meat Institute.

The Animal Welfare Approved label likely offers the greatest independent protection of any label. It’s the only label to require pasture access for all animals, prohibit beak trimming of birds and tail docking of pigs, and mandate audited slaughter practices of most farmed animals.

Despite the perplexing state of food labeling, it’s still possible to eat compassionately. Visit local farms and ask questions or do what many conscientious consumers around the world are doing to ensure that their food choices reflect their values—stick to a plant-based diet, thus leaving animals and animal byproducts off our plates entirely.

Tracey Narayani Glover, J.D., is an animal advocate, writer, owner and chef of The Pure Vegan, and yoga and meditation teacher in Mobile, AL. Connect at ThePureVegan.com and ARCForAllBeings.org.

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