Buying ethical meat/dairy
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. With so many different food labels, it can be hard to know which ones truly have a positive impact on farm animals. Here’s how you can keep farm animal welfare at the top of your grocery list!
BEST: Choose a certified label
The animal welfare certification programs listed below are dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for higher-welfare food choices. These programs not only benefit farm animals around the world, but also benefit consumers as they can buy with confidence. The following programs:
- Certify farms that raise farm animals to higher standards of animal welfare than the minimum Codes of Practice
- Verifies their standards are being met through inspections of farms, carried out by independent auditors
- Provide transparency to consumers as their standards are posted online for public viewing
- Guarantees animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range for their entire lives
- Requires audited high-welfare production, transport and slaughter practices
- Animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being
- Standards apply to farm animals from birth to slaughter, farms and slaughter facilities are audited
- Animals are never kept in cages, crates or tie-stalls
- Animals are free to do what comes naturally
- Defines good farm animal welfare as consisting of health and productivity, natural living, and emotional well-being
- Uses a tiered labelling strategy, signaling to consumers how the animals were raised
- The higher the number, the more the animal’s environment mimics a natural environment
- Focus is on natural production
- Does include some animal welfare provisions, including outdoor access for farm animals, but animal welfare is not the main focus of this certification
GOOD: Animal welfare labels
Although these labels are not certified or regulated, they do demonstrate consumer demand for higher-welfare products.
Cage-free: Animals are not housed in cages.
Cage-free labels are usually seen on egg cartons and applies to egg-laying hens. This label can also apply to pork. Although pigs are typically raised in groups, the parent breeding pigs are often housed in crates or stalls, so the label ‘crate-free’ or ‘stall-free’ may be seen.
Free-run: Animals are raised cage-free and indoors.
This label only has meaning for egg-laying hens, not turkeys or chickens raised for meat. It is standard practice for all Canadian turkeys and broiler chickens to be raised free-run. Learn more about the free-run label here. If you see this label on pork, be sure to ask whether this label applies to the parent pigs. It is standard practice for young pigs to be raised in groups, but the breeding parents are often housed in crates or stalls.
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.
It is important to note that this label does not necessarily mean that 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).
It is important to note that the grass-fed label does not mean the animal was fed grasses for the entirety of its life. 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 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 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.