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
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