Buying ethical meat/dairy
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). SPCA Certified has been reviewed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and is permitted for use on food packaging in Canada.
• Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) • Also referred to as Certified Animal Welfare Approved by a Greener World, AWA animals must be free from confinement housing, 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.
• 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. 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.
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 will be commenting on the standards and ask you to support our comments and/or add your own. The standard is open for comment until September 30, 2019.
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).