The SPCA Certified program is a farm animal welfare certification program developed by the BC SPCA to improve the lives of animals raised on farms in Canada. If you can’t find SPCA Certified foods in your area, below is a quick guide on what labels you can look for instead, and what each label means.
Certifications such as SPCA Certified, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), Global Animal Partnership (GAP) and Certified Organic are audited by a third-party to verify the farmer is raising the animals to a higher standard of animal welfare than what is commonly accepted in the farming industry. Third-party certifications ensure you get what you pay for when it comes to animal care standards.
- SPCA Certified: Animals must be free from confinement housing (raised as free-run or free-range). Painful practices are limited or eliminated. Enrichment in the animals’ environment allows the animal to perform positive natural behaviours (e.g. rooting, grooming, play, exercise). SPCA Certified has been reviewed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and permitted for use on food packaging and marketing materials in Canada.
- Animal Welfare Approved (AWA): Animals must be free from confinement housing, have outdoor access and the ability to engage in natural behaviours.
- Global Animal Partnership (GAP): A 5-step animal welfare rating program. Higher steps require farms to meet strict welfare standards. Lower steps (1-2) facilitate transition of conventional farms, but allow harmful practices as a result.
- Certified Organic: Includes some animal welfare provisions, such as free-range requirements.
Labels like free-run, free-range and pasture-raised are not third-party certified; however, they do include higher animal welfare standards.
- Cage-free (PDF):The animals were not housed in cages. Usually applies to egg-laying chickens or eggs, but may also apply to pigs or pork (sometimes called ‘crate-free’ or ‘stall-free’ for pork).
- Free-run: Cage-free, indoor housing. Only applicable to egg-laying hens. Not applicable to turkeys or broiler chickens (raised for meat), as all Canadian turkeys and broiler chickens are raised free-run unless the label says free-range or organic (both of which are also cage-free). Not applicable to pork as only the parent pigs are housed in crates or stalls, not the young pigs sent to slaughter for meat.
- Free-range: Cage-free with some outdoor access, weather permitting. The quality of the outdoor environment for grazing or foraging is not guaranteed. If you see this label on pork, be sure to ask whether the parent pigs are housed in stalls (crates), or if they are allowed to roam around outside too.
- Pasture-raised: Cage-free with access to a seeded outdoor pasture, weather permitting.
- Grass-fed, or grass-fed and finished: Animals usually have access to pasture and a diet made up of grass and forage. If you see the grass-fed (PDF) label used on beef or sheep products, be sure to ask if it was also grass-finished. Some animals are initially raised on pasture, then sent to a crowded dirt feedlot for finishing on grain, which can lead to a host of other animal welfare problems.
Avoid claims that imply animal welfare benefits but actually provide little or no improvements, and no certification to verify the claim.
These labels include: Animal Care Certified, enriched colony, Comfort Coop, nest-laid, animal-friendly, country fresh, naturally raised, non-medicated, raised without antibiotics (PDF) (or antibiotic-free), raised without the use of hormones (or hormone-free), vegetable-fed, grain-fed and Born-3.
These claims have no verification, certification or proof behind their labels but allude to improvements in animal welfare. When in doubt, always choose a third-party certified food product.