Buying ethical meat/dairy
Free-run, free-range, all natural, animal-friendly…these labels all sound good, but are the animals actually treated well? How would you know? 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. Here’s how you can keep farm animal welfare at the top of your grocery list!
BEST: Choose a certified label
Third-party animal welfare 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.
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA)
Animal Welfare Approved, by A Greener World, requires animals to be free from confinement housing (like cages for egg-laying hens), have outdoor access, and have the ability to engage in positive natural behaviours.
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.
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.
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, such as 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. 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.
GOOD: Animal welfare labels
These labels are not third-party certified, but do mean the animals were raised to higher animal welfare standards.
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).
Free-run: Animals are raised cage-free and indoors. This label is only applicable to egg-laying hens, but not turkeys or chickens raised for meat. All Canadian turkeys and broiler chickens are raised free-run. 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.
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.
Pasture-raised / Pastured: Animals are raised cage-free outdoors on pasture. However, this claim is unregulated, so it may not mean 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), 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 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.
AVOID: Misleading claims
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:
- Farm/country fresh
- Enriched colony, Comfort Coop or nest-laid eggs
- 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 confusing and 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?
- Look for an animal welfare certification
- Talk to your local grocer and ask for certified products to be available in store
- Choose “GOOD” products when certified products are unavailable
- Avoid purchasing products raised using inhumane practices (e.g. caged eggs, foie gras)
- Shop your local farmers’ market, ask questions, and visit the farms when possible
Subscribe to FarmSense newsletter
FarmSense is delivered four times a year and includes news about farm animal welfare, research and updates on what the BC SPCA is doing to help further animal welfare in Canada.
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.
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 BC SPCA recommends evidence-based animal welfare certification programs 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 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.