“Cruelty Free” – Not monitored by any organization, put in place by the manufacturer. No official definition. Can be misleading for consumers since the claim may be false or based on a loose standard of cruelty free actions.
“Cage-free” – Prohibits the raising of poultry in cages; however, the label does not address any other aspects of the living conditions including access to the outdoors, diet, if antibiotics were administered, or density and general conditions of facilities. There is no third party verification.
“Free-range” or “Free roaming” – Certified by USDA, producers must demonstrate that poultry had access to the outdoors but do not have to address the frequency, length, or type of outdoor exposure. Additionally, this label does not pertain to diet, antibiotic use, facility size and density of operations, or other welfare issues. The label only pertains to poultry meat. Currently there are no free-range standards for egg production. There is no third party verification.
“Vegetarian-fed” – Has no relevance to animal welfare issues.
“Raised without Added Hormones” and “No Hormones Administered” – Certified by USDA for beef production only and Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising hogs and poultry. Beef producers must provide “sufficient documentation” to the Agency that no hormones were administered. This label does not address living conditions, access to outdoors, type of feed, or other animal welfare issues. There is no third party verification.
“rBGH-free” and “rBGH-free” – This label notes that dairy cows were not treated with the genetically engineered growth hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). In cows treated with rBGH, significant health problems often develop, including a 50 percent increase in the risk of lameness (leg and hoof problems), over a 25 percent increase in the frequency of udder infections (mastitis), and serious animal reproductive problems, i.e., infertility, cystic ovaries, fetal loss, and birth defects. Due to industry pressure, some states have placed restrictions on rBGH labeling, which now mandate that an FDA disclaimer must accompany any “rBGH-free” label.
“Grass fed” or “Forage fed” – Certified by USDA for ruminant livestock meat and meat products, the standard states “grass and/or forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning.” The standard prohibits feeding grains or grain by-products to livestock and states that livestock must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. This standard does not apply to dairy products or address if animals were given antibiotics or hormones. There is no third party verification.
“Fresh” – This label has no relevance to animal welfare issues, only applies to the processing of a chicken after its slaughtered, and does not address welfare issues during the animal’s lifetime. Certified by USDA; no third party verification.
“Natural” – Requires that a product contains “no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed.” This label only applies to the processing of an animal after its slaughtered and does not address welfare issues during the animal’s lifetime. Certified by USDA; no third party verification.
Certified Humane Raised & Handled – This certification program was developed by Humane Animal Farm Care in concert with eminent animal scientists and veterinarians. The standard prohibits the use of tie stalls, gestations crates, poultry cages, forced molting through starvation, tail docking (only prohibited in dairy cows), and nose rings, as well as prohibits the use growth hormones & non-therapeutic antibiotics. Animals must have freedom of movement and there must be thermal and ventilation controls. Processors must comply with American Meat Institute Standards (AMI), which is a higher standard for slaughtering than the federal Humane Slaughter Act. (Antibiotics can be used for illnesses.) Certification requires annual inspections by independent, qualified inspectors.
American Welfare Approved – A certification program of the American Welfare Institute, livestock must have continuous access to the outdoors, quality food, and water. The standard prohibits the use of tie stalls, gestations crates, poultry cages, tail docking, nose rings, forced molting through starvation, any physical mutilation (including beak trimming and de-beaking), as well as prohibits the use growth hormones & non-therapeutic antibiotics. Animals must have freedom of movement, and there must be thermal and ventilation controls.
Certified Vegan – Certified by the Vegan Awareness Foundation (also called Vegan Action), the label signifies that the product contains no animal ingredients or by-products, used no animal ingredients or by-products in the manufacturing process, and was not tested on animals. The certification is based on affidavits submitted by the manufacturer; no mandatory testing or inspections are performed. The re-certification is done annually, but a manufacturer does not need to inform Vegan Action if they change ingredients mid-year, so the label may be inaccurate.
Food Alliance – Produce and livestock sold under the FA label are GMO-free. The standard prohibits the use of hormones, non-therapeutic antibiotics, and gestation crates. Additionally, warm season chickens must have access to the outdoors and cows must be grazed on pastures during the growing season. Farms must protect wildlife habitat and surrounding environment. Farm inspections occur at least every three years and farms must send reports annually. However, no requirements for processing/slaughter.
American Humane Certified – Certification created by the American Humane Association (formerly known as the Free Farmed Program). In poultry production, beak trimming or tipping performed at 10-days or younger is allowed, however, non-therapeutic growth promoters and antibiotics are prohibited. In swine operations, both tail docking and the use of nose rings are permissible; additionally, there is no explicit exclusion of gestation crates or boar pens. Dairy cows should have access to pasture where climatically appropriate, however it is not mandatory and can be supplemented by access to “exercise lot for at least 4 to 5 hours a day, weather permitting.” There are no standards available online for beef cattle.
Leaping Bunny – Developed by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC), this standard applies to cosmetics, personal hygiene products, and household products. CCIC certification indicates that a company and its suppliers do not conduct or commission animal testing for their products.
USDA Organic – The USDA National Organic Program prohibits the use of antibiotics, genetic engineering, irradiation, sewage sludge, and most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Organic animals must be fed 100% organic feed that does not contain animal byproducts or growth hormones. Animals must have access to the outdoors; ruminant animals must have continuous access, but chickens may be periodically confined. Famers are required to submit a 3-year field history of the farm before becoming certified. USDA does not verify, but they accredit organic certifiers who have to verify the farmers and producers before they can use the USDA Organic label, as well as the certifier’s own label. Under the organic label there are three tiers:
- “100% organic” contain only organic ingredients,
- “organic” must contain 95% organically grown ingredients and the remaining 5% must come from non-organic ingredients that have been approved on the National list,
- “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70%
Whole Foods’ 365 Organic Brand – Certified dairy cows are fed 100% organic with no antibiotics or hormones; all 365 brand milk, yogurt, butter and cheese are free of growth hormone, but other products containing these ingredients may be from farms using rBGH. Laying hens are kept cage free and have 16 hours of sunlight everyday – however, they may not have access to the outdoors. Whole Foods’ cattle and buffalo are not fed antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal byproducts, and must be range-fed for at least 2/3 of their lives. Pigs are not fed antibiotics or animal byproducts, there are no gestation creates, sows are given room to move in the birthing pens, nose rings are prohibited and bedding is required. Poultry is not fed antibiotics or animal byproducts. Beak trimming for broiler chickens and game hens is prohibited (but allowed for turkeys when necessary). Processing plants are subject to third-party inspection on a regular basis and must comply with American Meat Institute Standards (AMI). Whole Foods is in the process of creating “Animal Compassionate Species Specific Standards” that would encourage more producers to treat animals humanely. These standards would require a pasture-based production system.
Back to top