Table of Contents
Animal Welfare Hierarchy
Below is a prioritization of the highest animal welfare options from most humane (top) to least humane (bottom). Recognizing that there are not always the most humane options everywhere use this hierarchy to make the best choices where ever you are.
w/ humane certified pet food because some pets are carnivores
recovered food that would have been wasted (donated food, dumpster diving, etc)
Check out the DC Food Recovery Working Group for local options
Vegetarian & Reductarian Options
if you have to eat meat or dairy do it limited and choose the best options below
Local Pasture Raised/Grass Fed
meat and dairy from a local farm that you have verified w/ high animal welfare yourself
Third Party Animal Welfare Certifications
Best: Highest Comprehensive Certifications
Better: Medium Comprehensive Certifications
Good: non-comprehensive or lower standards – still better than factory farms!
Animal Welfare Labels
*No one regulates these labels*
Pasture Raised/Grass Fed
guarantee access to outside but no guarantee against other inhumane treatments
limited access to outside but no guarantee its used
no inhumane cages but no guarantee of humane treatment
Unlabeled Factory Farm Products
Local Farmers, Animal Welfare Certifications and Labels
Local Farm w/ Higher Animal Welfare Standards
(Local Pasture Raised/Grass Fed Farms)
Pasture raised/grass fed animals spend the majority of their lives, weather permitting, outside on pastures instead of cages and indoors. Unlike 100% grass fed animals, pasture-raised animals may receive supplemental organic grains, both during the grazing season and into winter months. Usually hormone and antibiotic free but recommended to ask. Being local means less carbon foot print and you can even visit the farm to observe treatment because there’s no guarantee some inhumane treatments don’t occur.
Make sure to ask about the following treatments:
- Sites to find your local farmers
Third Party Animal Welfare Certifications
Highest Animal Welfare Certifications
Animal Welfare Approved: Continuous access to pasture. No feedlots. Cage confinement, hormones and subtherapeutic (preventative or growth-promoting) antibiotics prohibited. Beak trimming of poultry and tail docking of pigs and cattle are prohibited, while pain relief is generally required for removal of horn buds of cattle. Standards extend to breeding animals, transport and slaughter.
Global Animal Partnership: 1 through 5+ welfare rating program where 1 is conventional cage free standards and 5+ is the most humane. Look for products with a 4, 5, and 5 + for pasture access and humane treatments
Good Animal Welfare Certifications
Certified Humane: Continuous outdoor access for ruminants but not required for birds and pigs. If indoors, adequate space, bedding and enrichment are required for pigs and birds. Cage confinement, hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics prohibited. Beak trimming of hens and turkeys and tail docking of pigs are allowed under certain circumstances. Feedlots permitted for limited periods. Standards extend to breeding animals, transport and slaughter.
Non-Welfare Focused Certifications that have welfare standards
All certifications have pasture raise/grass fed requirements
Certifications without Pasture Raised Requirements
American Humane Certified: Access to outdoors not required for birds, beef cattle or pigs. If indoors more space required than in conventional farms. Cages with enrichment for egg-laying hens permitted. Beak trimming of poultry and tail docking of pigs without pain relief are allowed. Standards extend to breeding animals, transport and slaughter.
Food Alliance Certified: Sustainable agriculture certification program that supports “safe and fair working conditions, humane treatment of animals, and good environmental stewardship.” Does not require access to the outdoors. Humane standards for indoor space. Pain relief is not required for most physical alterations, including beak trimming and tail docking. Standards do not include the treatment of animals at slaughter.
Animal Welfare Labels
Certified Organic – USDA Organic certification has many animal welfare requirements such as creating a naturally living environment, pastured time for all ruminant animals and humane standards for indoor chickens such as fresh air, sunlight, etc. in January of 2017 the USDA passed new organic certification standards improving chicken welfare, such as requiring some access to outdoors, and improving transport and slaughter humane standards. The Trump administration has put these new standards on hold for a 6 month review open to public comments. *Look for Certified Naturally Grown to find farms typically more local with same animal welfare standards.
Pasture Raised/Grass Fed – Pasture raised/grass fed animals spend the majority of their lives, weather permitting, outside on pastures. Unlike 100% grass fed animals, pasture-raised animals may receive supplemental organic grains, both during the grazing season and into winter months. Typically pasture raised/grass fed animals grow slower which gives animals longer lives before slaughter as opposed to cows sent to feedlots to fatten up quickly. And the meat of pasture raised/grass fed animals tend to be a lot more healthier too. Pasture Raised/Grass Fed is the most humane label but doesn’t guarantee protection from all inhumane treatments like tail docking, over milking, climate control transportation, veal production, etc.
Free-Range/Free Roaming – Requires limited access to outdoors, weather permitting. This is more humane than cage-free but doesn’t guarantee humane treatment. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside. Technically a farm only has to open their barn door for a small time a day, even if animals don’t go outside, to be free-range.
Cage-Free – Primarily refers to chicken. Most chicken farms in US use “battery cages” that restrict the birds’ movements, leaving them no room to spread their wings or even turn around. Cage-free guarantees chickens aren’t confined in cages. Although more humane than conventional cage free doesn’t guarantee humane treatment such as proper space, outdoor access, natural light, proper ventilation, etc.
Battery Cages Good Cage Free Farm Bad Cage Free Farm
Labels that don’t relate to animal welfare:
vegetarian-fed, natural, farm fresh, enriched, pasteurized
More info on humane labels at Humane Society
Higher Animal Welfare Meat, Dairy, and Pet Food Options in Greater DC
Humane Society: How to Decipher Egg Carton Labels
The Cornucopia Institute: Organic Dairy Report/Ratings Arranged by Cow Star Ratings