Farm Sanctuary Issues Report about Food Labels

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A photo of chickens drinking water

This may be what you think of as free range, but it is not reality

Founded in 1986, Farm Sanctuary is a tireless advocate for the humane treatment of animals.  Their goal is to end cruelty to farm animals and promotes compassionate living through rescue, education and advocacy.   Over the years, they have lobbied vigorously for cruelty prevention laws and have been instrumental in helping pass legislation protecting animals from harsh and inhumane treatment.  In addition, the organization rescues mistreated animals and provides educational opportunities at their New York and California shelters.  They also manage ongoing advocacy campaigns through press materials distributed to major media outlets.  Their main objective is to bring awareness to the poor treatment of farm animals that are raised for meat or dairy purposes.

Sometimes referred to as the “PETA for farm animals,” one of Farm Sanctuary’s pet projects is trying to unravel, standardize and explain the myriad of labeling standards that exist for consumers who are buying “free-range,” “natural,” “humanely raised,” and “organic” products.  Currently, it is difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to know how humanely the animals were treated before their meat, milk or eggs end up on store shelves. Although most consumers feel that these labels signify positive farm conditions, the reality is that there is little standardization and even less oversight.

Food Labels are the Responsibility of the USDA

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the agency responsible for labels on various animal products, Farm Sanctuary has determined that some of the titles, such as “natural” or “naturally raised,” have absolutely no correlation to the type of conditions in which the animals were raised.   Other labels, such as “organic” or “free range” may imply humane and compassionate conditions, but this often is not the case since requirements are vague.  Many of the terms you hear may sound similar, but are not.  Depending on the circumstances, location and facility, they can all come to signify something totally different, which bewilders consumers who are trying to ensure that the products they buy adhere to their personal philosophies about gentle and humane treatment of the animals.  It is confusing and convoluted.  Consumers who care about this issue would be shocked to visit the producers of many products that lay claim to some of these terms and find out the conditions under which these animals live.

The USDA allows and approves labels on agricultural products, but with few exceptions, there is no on-site verification that the labels are true or even mean anything.  For example, cage free hens can be crowded into large areas where each bird has no more than a square foot of space in which to roam.  “Organic” requires that animals be given access to the outdoors, but “access” is not defined and the interpretation by producers varies wildly.

Report Provides Shocking Information about the Inhumane Treatment of Animals

Farm Sanctuary’s interest in protecting animals from cruel and inhumane treatment sparked a comprehensive study and 71-page published report about these issues, which can be downloaded free from their site.  Titled The Truth Behind the Labels: Farm Animal Welfare Standards and Labeling Practices, the report contains shocking information about the inconsistent ways farm animals are raised and provides eye-opening details to consumers who are passionate about animal cruelty.  A summary of the report is available here.

Although not every farmer or producer runs a slipshod operation, Farm Sanctuary’s findings certainly gives many of us reason to pause the next time we reach for a carton of eggs that are supposedly from “free range hens,” or a package of pork chops that are certified that they came from humanely treated pigs.  The report definitely underscores the need for across-the-board standardization of food labeling, as well as  inspections and audits to ensure compliance.

We urge everyone to buy local, take a day to visit local farms and really see how their animals are being raised. If you choose to eat meat (as we at FriendsEAT do) please take a couple of days in your year to make sure the animals are being treated with the respect they deserve. Animals should live good lives and be killed as humanely as possible. Happy animals make much better meals.  We encourage those who are vegetarian and vegan and we urge the public to skip fast food (cheap food that is bought buy food coupons is usually not humane), take some time to find out where their food comes from, teach children what their meals are made of and finally to buy local so that you can have control over the food on your plate. Every little step matters even one day helps.

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