Understanding ethical food labels
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SPCA Certified logoThe 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.

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Learn more about making humane food choices.


Third-party certifications such as those listed below audit their farms often to verify the farmer is raising animals to a higher standard of animal welfare than what is commonly done in the farming industry. Third-party certifications ensure you get what you pay for when it comes to animal care.

• SPCA Certified • These animals must be cage-free (raised as free run or free range). Their environment allows and encourages them to behave as they would naturally (e.g. rooting, grooming, dust bathing, play, exercise, socializing). Find SPCA Certified food.

• Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) • Also referred to as Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World, AWA animals must be free from confinement housing (like cages for egg-laying hens), have outdoor access, and the ability to engage in positive natural behaviours.

• Global Animal Partnership (GAP) • GAP is a 5-step animal welfare rating program. Higher steps (3 and up) require farms to meet strict welfare standards. Lower steps (1-2) facilitate the transition of conventional farms to higher standards, but allow some harmful practices during the transition. GAP foods are most commonly found at Whole Foods Market.

• Certified Humane • Certified Humane products come from animals who are not overcrowded in confinement systems (like cages for egg-laying hens). The standards are upheld through annual inspections conducted by species experts. There are third-party independent inspections of all farms, ranches and slaughter facilities. Certified Humane products can be found at Choices Markets, Nester Market, Safeway and Whole Foods.

• Certified Organic • The organic label has more to do with the inputs that go into raising the animals – for example, no GMO’s, herbicides, pesticides or medications are permitted. The focus is on ‘natural’. Organic certification has some animal welfare requirements like outdoor access for farm animals, though animal welfare is not the main focus of this certification. Organic certification does ban some of the most concerning industry practices like housing egg-laying hens in cages. See how organic certification compares to conventional farming and SPCA Certified. Be sure to look for the organic label on the product, as some farms make the claim they are organic but don’t actually obtain the certification. Certified Organic food can be found at most grocery stores.


Labels like free run, free range and pasture-raised are not third-party certified but do imply higher animal welfare standards.

• Cage-free • Cage-free animals are not housed in cages, crates or stalls. Cage-free usually applies to egg-laying hens or eggs, but may also apply to pigs or pork (sometimes called ‘crate-free’ or ‘stall-free’ for pork). Did you know cage-free eggs may be healthier for you? (PDF)

• Free run • Free run animals are raised cage-free and indoors. This label is only applicable to egg-laying hens but not turkeys or broiler chickens (raised for meat). 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). This label is not applicable to pork as only parent pigs are housed in crates or stalls, not the young pigs that become pork chops and bacon. Parent pigs usually end up as processed foods or pet food when they are killed.

• Free range • 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 around outside too.

• Pasture-raised / Pastured • This claim means these animals are raised cage-free outdoors on pasture. However, this claim is currently unregulated, so it may not mean the animals spent their whole lives on pasture.

• Grass-fed, or grass-fed and finished • This claim means these animals have access to pasture and a diet made up of forages, but in Canada the grass-fed claim is not regulated. 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 finished solely on grass, not grains. Some animals are initially raised on pasture then sent to a crowded dirt feedlot for finishing on grains or corn to fatten them up. 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.


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

Such labels include: Enriched colony, Comfort Coop, nest-laid, animal-friendly, country fresh, farm fresh, all natural/naturally raised, non-medicated, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, vegetable-fed, grain-fed and Born-3 (Omega-3).

Learn about the top seven most confusing and misleading food labels. These are the ones that tend to fool us most often.

These claims have no verification, certification or proof behind their labels but sound like they benefit animal welfare. When in doubt, always choose a third-party certified food product.

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