Animal Welfare Labels

Animal Welfare Labels

Back to the Food Labels Guide

American Grass Fed
American Grassfed Approved
  • American Grass Fed Association establishes standards, compliance is ensured by FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Services) of the USDA
  • Animals are fed a 100-percent forage diet and are never confined to feed lots
  • Animals are never fed antibiotics or hormones and are born and raised on American family farms
  • Third party audits assure compliance
American Humane Certified
American Humane Certified
  • Certification given by Humane Heartland after an application and audit
  • Does not require pasture time for animals, permits cages, allows beak-cutting
  • Concerns have been raised regarding audits and not putting limits on the distance live farm animals can be transported (a traumatic experience for animals)
American Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved
  • Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) audits, certifies, and supports farmers
  • AWA is a non-profit organization and does not charge to become certified
  • Animals have continuous access to pasture or range and are not put in feedlots
  • Cage confinement, horomones, and preventative or growth-promoting antibiotics not allowed
Antibiotic-free
Antibiotic-free
  • This label is not certified by the USDA
Without Antibiotics
Raised Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics Administered/Added
  • The USDA grants these labels if it is verified that animals were not given antibiotics during their lives
Certified Humane
Cage-Free
  • Cage-free labels do not require any third-party certification
  • Cages are prohibited but animals are not required to have access to sunlight, animals can be tightly crowded with movement restricted
  • Allows beak-cutting and starvation-based forced molting
  • Does not regulate feed or antibiotic use
Certified Humane
Certified Humane
  • Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is a non-profit organization that verifies this certification
  • Continuous outdoor access required for ruminants (cattle, goats, and sheep)
  • Outdoor access not required for birds and pigs unless the words “free range” or “pasture”’ also appear on the package
  • If indoors, adequate bedding, space, and enrichment are provided for birds and pigs
  • Cage confinement, hormones, and non-therapeutic antibiotics are prohibited
  • Feed lots with standards better than conventional feed lots are allowed for limited periods of time
Farm Fresh
Farm Fresh
 

Humanely Local

One of the best ways to know what animal stewardship practices were involved in producing your food is to meet your farmer! Buying meat, dairy, and eggs at your local farmer’s market, or through a CSA, allows you to have a conversation with the farmers that produce your food. You can ask them questions about humane practices and support local, ethical farms.

Free Range
Free-Range/Free-Roaming (USDA)
  • The term free-range is not regulated by the USDA except when applied to chickens and turkeys raised for meat
  • It must be verified that animals have “access to the outdoors” but the quality of this access is not specified so it could be a very small space for a very short time. Conditions of farms with this label vary greatly
  • Does not regulate feed
Global Animal Partnership
Global Animal Partnership (GAP)
  • The Global Animal Partnership (GAP) has a 6-step rating program for animals raised for meat (this does not include eggs and milk)
  • The higher the step (1 is the lowest, 6 is the highest), the stricter the requirements for animal welfare. The steps build on each other encom- passing the standards of the steps preceding them
  • Hormones and non-therapeutic antibiotics are prohibited at all steps
  • Standards extend to transport but not breeding animals or slaughter
  • Audits ensure compliance
Grain Fed
Grain-Fed
  • Feeding ruminants grain instead of vegetation causes severe digestive problems
Grass-fed
Grass-Fed
  • The USDA grass-fed label has been withdrawn and farms applying to the program will no longer be verified
  • There are no existing regulations for ensuring Grass-Fed claims are factual
Humanley Raised
Humanley Raised/Humanely Handled
  • The USDA does not define or regulate these terms
  • Check for third-party verified labels listed below for meaningful animal welfare claims
Naturally Raised
Naturally Raised
  • The USDA does not define or regulate this term
No hormones added/No hormones administered (USDA)
No hormones added/No hormones administered (USDA)
  • This label is certified by the USDA. The pork and poultry industries do not allow the administration of hormones
  • Producers must prove no hormones were administered during the animal’s life
  • No relevance to any other aspects of animal welfare
Pasture Raised/Pasture-Grown/Pastured
Pasture Raised/Pasture-Grown/Pastured
  • There are no legal definitions for these terms, companies can put this label on their products without third-party verification
Pasture Raised/Pasture-Grown/Pastured
Validus Animal Welfare Certified
  • Validus is an independent certification company that claims to ensure food is produced in a socially responsible way. It is a USDA processed verified program
  • The certification affirms that an operation has meant its internally established animal welfare standards
  • Validus’ Animal Welfare Review certification does not address hormone-use, antibiotic-use, feed type, or access to the outdoors
 

How we rated the labels

1. First, we considered whether the label evaluates a practice that could lead to measurable benefits. For example, organic labels are certifying practices that prohibit the use of synthetic chemicals and therefore seek to reduce impacts on the environment and human health. This leads to measurable benefits. By contrast, “farm fresh” is meaningless since it does not define practices that create any measurable benefits.

2. We then looked at whether the label represents a legal or regulatory standard that is clearly defined. For example, the USDA organic standards are clearly defined by the USDA, and those standards are publicly available. By contrast, the words “naturally raised” are not regulated, and are meaningless.

3. We then considered whether the standards set forth by the label are subjected to third-party certification or audit. The use of an outside certifier and/or auditor helps to prevent greenwashing that can easily occur with self-regulated labeling.

Labels that received the highest marks from Green America (4 to 5 stars) are those that scored the highest on the criteria above.

Most animals are raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) with little to no access to the outdoors and a diet of genetically engineered feed and antibiotics. Third-party verifiers ensure a higher level of animal welfare. Make sure to keep an e