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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.
Also, feel free to print and distribute any of our informational guides:
- Buyer’s pocket guide to humane food labels (PDF)
- Egg labelling brochure (PDF)
- Egg label poster (PDF)
- Dairy and meat labelling brochure (PDF)
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.
The Canadian Organic Standards outline minimum animal welfare expectations for Certified Organic farmers. The BC SPCA is extremely committed to improving welfare standards for animals living on organic farms in Canada. A 2015 update of the standards included important improvements for animal welfare such as banning crates for pigs and banning tethering for cows.
In September 2018, the next revision process got underway, with completion of the next Organic Standard anticipated to occur in November 2020. The draft standards opened for public comment on July 2, 2019.
The BC SPCA commented on the standards and asked you to support our comments and/or add your own. The many comments are now being reviewed by the development committee and we are hopeful that further improvements will be made.
The BC SPCA will continue to collaborate with organic associations across Canada on improving farm animal welfare in organic production systems.
The BC SPCA also operates its own in-house farm certification and food labeling program, SPCA Certified, with the aim of further improving animal welfare on farms. The SPCA Certified and organic certification programs are complementary. Learn how they compare (PDF).
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 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.