Buying ethical meat/dairy
A farm must first be certified in the SPCA Certified program in order to be allowed to use the SPCA Certified label (the little red barn logo and claim statement) on certified food products. To become certified, the farm must undergo an annual on-farm assessment and third-party review to ensure compliance with SPCA Certified program standards (i.e. the program requirements).
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has approved use of the SPCA Certified label by SPCA Certified farmers on their certified products. However, certified farmers are not required to use the label, and some of them choose not to for various reasons.
The BC SPCA continues to work with SPCA Certified farmers to incorporate the program label on their certified product packaging, and continues to assist them in promoting their products via other channels (e.g. farm signs, websites).
To ensure the highest animal welfare standards are being met on farm, your best bet is to ask for, and look for, the SPCA Certified label on food products.
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.
The Canadian Organic Standards and Regulations outline minimum animal welfare expectations for Certified Organic farmers. The standards were updated in 2015 and there were many improvements, including:
- The use of crates for housing/restraining pigs giving birth are now prohibited
- Minimum ages at which lambs, calves, and kits (i.e. baby rabbits) can be weaned from their mother
- A ban on tying dairy cows to stalls, effective within 5 years’ time
- Making sure chickens are fed at least once daily
- A requirement that farmers document animal welfare issues and create a plan to fix them
Learn more about the animal welfare improvements in the recently revised Canadian organic industry standards (PDF).
For more information about what the 2015 standards require of farmers, visit the Canadian Organic Grower’s website and view the full Organic Production Systems: General Principles and Management Standards (PDF).
You can also learn about the BC SPCA’s farm certification and food labelling program for improving animal welfare on farms: SPCA Certified.
Dairy products have presented a challenge to our SPCA Certified program because of the way milk is collected. A bulk milk truck collects milk from many farms, pooling (combining) all of the milk into the same tank before bringing it to the processor where it may be pooled again before packaging. In addition, the processor does not have control over which farm’s milk it receives.
Under this system, dairy products from certified and non-certified farms cannot be distinguished, and therefore, cannot be labeled as SPCA Certified.
To solve this issue, a number of farms need to sign on to a program and work with a milk processor and the BC Milk Marketing Board to implement a system where specific tanker trucks are designated to pick up milk from certified farms.
To jump start this, consumers need to ask for a specialty milk product (like SPCA Certified), giving the processor reason to initiate the discussion with the Milk Marketing Board and the farmers.
This happened with organic dairy products, which is the reason you see more of them in the grocery store. Organic dairy producers have their own milk trucks to prevent mixing of organic milk with non-organic milk, but again, the truck collects milk from many organic farms before emptying the tank.
SPCA Certified farmers want to be able to label their milk and other dairy products as such, but since it can’t be separated from the other non-SPCA-Certified milk, it is not possible unless the farmer processes his/her own milk into fluid milk products, cheeses, butter, etc. To date, the dairy industry has not been willing to designate separate trucks to only a few SPCA Certified dairy farms. So, to produce SPCA Certified labelled milk and other dairy products, we would need to certify a larger group of producers whose milk would go into the same truck.
Another challenge is the requirement that all SPCA Certified dairy cattle have access to pasture or a deep bedded pack, because many dairy farms currently are not set up that way. The large majority of non-organic dairy farms do not let their cows outside, nor do they have any pasture land or barns that can accommodate a bedded pack. Only organic dairy farms are required to let their cows outside, and even then, it doesn’t have to be every day. Some organic dairy cows are still housed tied up in stalls.
The SPCA Certified program has contacted the organic dairy industry to determine the level of interest in having organic cattle become SPCA Certified as well, since they are already collecting organic milk with separate tanker trucks. To date, there has been no success in these efforts.
Food from farms certified for animal welfare practices are a niche market that a pooled milk system is not set up for. Until we can find a way to keep certified milk separate (like they do with organic milk), the system is better suited to cheeses, yogurts and other dairy products that can be processed separately and do not need to be pooled together.
While the BC SPCA regularly works in partnership with animal rights organizations, and we enjoy a mutual respect for each other’s work, our philosophies differ. The BC SPCA is an animal welfare organization, not an animal rights organization.
The goal of animal rights organizations is to end all use of animals by humans, including use of animals for food, clothing, in entertainment, in research and as pets.
As an animal welfare organization, the BC SPCA acknowledges that many Canadians rely on domesticated farm animals for food. Our farm programming exists to improve the lives of animals being raised on farms to ensure they reach the end of their lives as peacefully as possible. We encourage people who choose a diet consisting of meats, dairy products or eggs to choose only products raised to the highest standards of animal welfare.
The SPCA Certified program is an evidence-based program developed by the BC SPCA to ensure that animals raised for food are treated as humanely as possible throughout their lives via the five freedoms outlined in the BC SPCA mission statement.
Leading by example, our internal BC SPCA food policy ensures that only qualifying higher welfare animal products are served at BC SPCA events, and that vegan and vegetarian foods are available.
The SPCA Certified program is a farm certification and food-labeling program dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals raised for food in Canada. Products labeled with the “little red barn” logo come from farms that are annually assessed to SPCA Certified farm animal welfare standards by trained, independent validators.
SPCA Certified farmers do not use confinement housing (e.g. cages for chickens), they provide enrichment to the animals’ environment and they ensure painful practices like dehorning and castration (neutering) are minimized or eliminated.
Learn more about the SPCA Certified program.
The short answer is, yes. The SPCA Certified program has been approved to sell in all Costco locations across Canada. SPCA Certified eggs are available at Costco, but you may not see the SPCA Certified red barn logo on Costco egg cartons.
Costco works with many different animal welfare certification programs to ensure their eggs are raised to high standards. Costco’s ‘Kirkland Signature Organic Eggs’ are cage-free and sourced from farms certified under one of Costco’s approved animal welfare certification programs, such as SPCA Certified.
Most small farmers cannot produce enough eggs to supply a retail giant like Costco, which sells a lot of eggs! By pooling eggs from a number of different farms, Costco can continually supply eggs certified to animal welfare standards in large quantities. With so many certifications going into each carton, it’s not possible to include all the program logos on the cartons.
If you would like to learn more about which labels Costco has approved for their ‘Kirkland Signature Organic Eggs’, please visit the Costco website.
Learn where you can find local food retailers carrying SPCA Certified foods.
The BC SPCA supports the initiative to establish evidence-based standards and clear expectations for the practice of slaughter without prior stunning. Nonetheless, since slaughter without prior stunning has been scientifically demonstrated to cause unnecessary suffering, the BC SPCA position is that governments should take more substantial action by eliminating the practice in Canada, or at the very least, by requiring immediate post-cut stunning of every animal.
Unfortunately, our constables have no inspection powers in slaughterhouses and can only attend to investigate if we receive complaints from someone who has witnessed animal cruelty directly. Also, because these ritual slaughter practices are legally permitted under B.C.’s and Canada’s meat processing laws, they are also effectively exempt from prosecution under the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, as they constitute “reasonable and generally accepted practices.”
Developments began in 2016 to create national standards to address this issue and a public consultation period was held in early 2017 to gather feedback on the proposal. The BC SPCA was told that our position statement on the issue was considered, and we will continue to fight for tougher standards to prevent suffering of these animals.
This is an issue that would be really important for government to hear from you on personally. We suggest writing to the Provincial and Federal Agriculture Ministers and copying in your local MLA and MP. It’s always really important that they hear directly from their constituents on these issues.