Understanding higher-welfare food labels
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I need help finding higher-welfare food

The BC SPCA works to empower consumers to choose higher-welfare food products, and recognizes farmers who make a difference for how farm animals are raised. With so many different food labels, it can be hard to know which ones truly have a positive impact on farm animals. Here’s how you can keep farm animal welfare at the top of your grocery list!

Download and print our informational brochure on meat, egg and dairy labels to use while shopping 

BEST: Choose a certified label

The animal welfare certification programs listed below are dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for higher-welfare food choices. These programs not only benefit farm animals around the world, but also benefit consumers as they can buy with confidence. The following programs:

  • Certify farms that raise farm animals to higher standards of animal welfare than the minimum Codes of Practice 
  • Verifies their standards are being met through inspections of farms, carried out by independent auditors
  • Provide transparency to consumers as their standards are posted online for public viewing

Animal Welfare Approved (AWA)

  • Guarantees animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range for their entire lives
  • Requires audited high-welfare production, transport and slaughter practices
  • Animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being

 

Certified Humane

  • Standards apply to farm animals from birth to slaughter, farms and slaughter facilities are audited
  • Animals are never kept in cages, crates or tie-stalls
  • Animals are free to do what comes naturally

 

Global Animal Partnership (GAP)

  • Defines good farm animal welfare as consisting of health and productivity, natural living, and emotional well-being
  • Uses a tiered labelling strategy, signaling to consumers how the animals were raised
  • The higher the number, the more the animal’s environment mimics a natural environment

 

Organic

  • Focus is on natural production
  • Does include some animal welfare provisions, including outdoor access for farm animals, but animal welfare is not the main focus of this certification

 

GOOD: Animal welfare labels

Although these labels are not certified or regulated, they do demonstrate consumer demand for higher-welfare products.

 

Cage-free: Animals are not housed in cages.

Cage-free labels are usually seen on egg cartons and applies to egg-laying hens. This label can also apply to pork. Although pigs are typically raised in groups, the parent breeding pigs are often housed in crates or stalls, so the label ‘crate-free’ or ‘stall-free’ may be seen.

Free-run: Animals are raised cage-free and indoors.

This label only has meaning for egg-laying hens, not turkeys or chickens raised for meat. It is standard practice for all Canadian turkeys and broiler chickens to be raised free-run. Learn more about the free-run label here. If you see this label on pork, be sure to ask whether this label applies to the parent pigs. It is standard practice for young pigs to be raised in groups, but the breeding parents are often housed in crates or stalls.

From left to right: caged laying hens, free-run laying hens (cage-free), free-range laying hens (cage-free)
Breeding female pigs housed in gestation stalls (left), breeding female pigs raised cage-free with outdoor access (right)
Breeding female pigs housed in gestation stalls (left) and stall-free (right)
Broiler chicken
Free-run meat chickens. This is the standard housing system for chickens raised for meat.

Free-range: Animals are raised cage-free with outdoor access when the weather is good.

The quality of the outdoor area varies widely and the amount of time the animals get to spend outdoors is not monitored. 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 outside too.

Free range meat chickens

Pasture-raised / Pastured: Animals are raised cage-free outdoors on pasture.

It is important to note that this label does not necessarily mean that the animals spent their whole lives on pasture.

Grass-fed, or grass-fed and finished: Animals have access to pasture and a diet made up of forages (grass and hay).

It is important to note that the grass-fed label does not mean the animal was fed grasses for the entirety of its life. If you see the grass-fed label used on beef or sheep products, be sure to ask if they were 100% grass-fed and finished, meaning they were raised solely on grass, never grains. Some animals are raised on pasture then sent to a feedlot where they are fed grains or corn to fatten them up before slaughter. Grain/corn is not a natural diet for cattle and sheep and can lead to a host of animal welfare problems, like severe gut pain.

Cattle in a feedlot (left) and cattle on pasture (right)

AVOID: Misleading claims

Avoid claims that imply animal welfare benefits but actually provide little or no improvements, and no certification to verify the claim.

 

Such labels include:

    • All-natural/naturally-raised
    • Farm/country fresh
    • Enriched colony, Comfort Coop or nest-laid eggs
    • Animal-friendly
    • Non-medicated
    • Antibiotic-free
    • Hormone-free
    • Vegetable-fed
    • Grain-fed
    • Born-3 (Omega-3) eggs
    • Animal Care Certified
      • Farms meet the minimum animal care requirements outlined in the Canadian Codes of Practice, therefore animals are not raised to higher standards

Learn about the top seven most misleading food labels.

What are you paying for?

By purchasing higher-welfare foods, you avoid conventional farming systems, which can have many animal welfare issues. You are choosing to support animal welfare benefits such as:

    • Cage-free systems
    • Enriching environments
    • Expression of natural animal behaviours
    • Transparency in animal production
    • Any many more

What can you do?

  1. Look for an animal welfare certification
  2. Talk to your local grocer and ask for certified products to be available in store
  3. Choose “GOOD” products when certified products are unavailable
  4. Avoid purchasing products raised using inhumane practices (e.g. caged eggs, foie gras)
  5. Shop your local farmers’ market, ask questions, and visit the farms when possible

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