As I searched for a true definition of what “humanely raised” is, I had a hard time finding a clear and accurate definition for all humanely labeled certification programs. I was able to gather, from several sources, a list of possible criterion that a livestock farmer or rancher would need to provide to his/her livestock to be considered “humanely raised”.
Humanely raised can be:
– Produced in an ethical and humane fashion
– Raised with minimal stress
– Access to ample feed and water
– No antibiotics
– No additional hormones
– Are not fed animal products/byproducts
– Anything that doesn’t come from a factory farm
– Animals raised on pastures
– Animals allowed to act naturally
– Product traceability back to the farmer
– Certified by a trustworthy, independent organization
– Processed in a conscientious manner
First, the humane label varies in its definition from program to program. These labels are not regulated under any USDA programs. This means that humane certification programs are provided through third-party, independent verifications – and the standards of each of these programs vary and are frequently arbitrary. The established standards for each of these programs are generally created, reviewed, and updated by an advisory committee. The members of this advisory committee are persons who may or may not be “experts” in food production, animal health, animal behavior, and/or animal care. Again, this advisory committee is chosen at the discretion of each humane certification program. Each of the humane certification programs should list and provide more information on the scientific advisory committee members; it is always advisable to investigate members and what organizations they represent. Are they from a university (in which they should be providing research based, unbiased information) or are they from an industry group? Some of the humane certification programs have used the “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare” to guide their standards.
To be enrolled in a voluntary humane labeling program the livestock producer will pay a fee for the humane certification program organization to come out and conduct audits/site visits on his/her farm or ranch. The humane labeling program may provide feedback and guidance to the producer on ways they can better meet the standards. A follow-up audit or visit may be necessary before the livestock farmer or rancher receives official “humane labeling” capabilities. Additionally, the farmer or rancher may have audits/farm visits at regular intervals to ensure he/she is staying in compliance to the program standards.
The programs are so numerous I won’t explore all of the possible programs, their standards, fees, and criterion here as there are many of them. But I do want to highlight a couple of the ones I thought provided interesting or useful information.
The American Humane Association claims to be the first welfare certification program in the U.S. to ensure the humane treatment of farm animals, with history dating back to 1877! Not only do they protect farm animals from abuse and neglect, they also protect children and pets.
Certified Humane has actually done a pretty good job of comparing some of the standards for chicken beef, and pigs in comparison to other organizations. They have also provided one that is unique to just laying hens. These can be handy tools as there can be a large number of organizations offering humanely labeled certifications, making it a daunting task to compare and contrast the benefits of each.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), is responsible for verifying the humane treatment of livestock in harvest (slaughter) facilities. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) was originally passed in 1958; in 1978 the USDA’s FSIS passed the Humane Slaughter Act. This Act requires the proper treatment and humane handling of all food animals harvested in USDA inspected slaughter plants. However, it does not apply to chickens or other birds.
You may be thinking why don’t all livestock farmers or ranchers enroll in a humane certification program? Some livestock farmers or ranchers choose to enroll in a voluntary, fee-based humane certification program to be able to offer a choice to consumers at the meat counter. As with most other special labeling claims, there is usually a price difference in meat products with the humane label versus meat products without the humane label. If “humanely raised” is important to you, you have the choice to purchase that product.
The important thing you should know is that all livestock farmers and ranchers do their very best to provide humane care to their animals. Unfortunately, there are rare occasions when a livestock farmer is not humane to the animals he/she is raising. That is not ok and not acceptable! I may be bold in saying this, but we hope all parents who are responsible for raising children do not intentionally harm those children, but we know that is not always the case, and some children do get mistreated. Some pet owners do not provide the best care for their pets. While it may be drastic to compare livestock animals, children, and pets to one another, the common theme is the majority of them have wonderful lives where they are well cared for, humanely raised, and loved by the people providing for them. When cases of abuse or neglect occur, we can all agree it is not ok and should not be tolerated – no matter if it is farm animals, children, or pets.