Reading the Fine Print:
A Closer Look at the Truth Behind “Humane” Labels

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Reading the Fine Print:
A Closer Look at the Truth Behind "Humane" Labels

By Matt Thomas

It is crucial to realize that all farm animals – no matter how they are raised – are orphaned when they are torn from their mothers, often at or soon after birth, and ultimately die in slaughterhouses when they are still so young that they have lived only a small fraction of their natural life spans.

In recent years, the public’s growing concern for animals suffering on factory farms has increased general interest in veganism, but also given rise to another modern phenomenon of “humane” marketing and labeling schemes (such as “humane” labels like “cage free,” “free roaming” and “naturally raised”) that are primarily employed to convince consumers that farm animals are treated well when they actually endure tremendous cruelty. To address these contradictions, Farm Sanctuary recently released “The Truth Behind the Labels: Farm Animal Welfare Standards and Labeling Practices,” a 16-page booklet based on a longer report that will help consumers comprehend just what these labeling programs entail for farm animals.

“Humane” claims are often made without any oversight whatsoever, and even when they are made pursuant to more standardized labeling schemes, they typically promise something quite different from what they actually deliver when it comes to the welfare of animals exploited for meat, milk and eggs. With more than a dozen programs making special animal welfare claims, and each program's standards based on dozens of different criteria, the devil is in the details, often leaving consumers unable to accurately determine what the labels really mean. Add to this the fact that most labeling schemes are not regulated by the government and many were created by self-interested agribusiness and retail industry trade associations, and it is often difficult to untangle the truth from lies.

Farm Sanctuary Co-founder and President Gene Baur asserts that “The updated report is an essential resource that will promote a more nuanced understanding of labeling and certification schemes, which are typically inconsistent with the public’s expectations.” For instance, under many of these labeling ploys, “free range” chickens still spend their entire lives tightly packed together in sheds, cattle are still crowded into filthy feedlots and pigs still have their tails cut off without anesthetic. Baur points out that “Few people would claim that treating animals in this way is ‘humane,’ but that’s exactly the notion these labeling programs were designed to promote.”

Even while some certification programs may provide quality of life improvements for farm animals, it is crucial to realize that all farm animals – no matter how they are raised – are orphaned when they are torn from their mothers, often at or soon after birth, and ultimately die in slaughterhouses when they are still so young that they have lived only a small fraction of their natural life spans. Humans don’t need meat, dairy or eggs to survive: in fact, choosing a vegan diet is much healthier for us, and more environmentally sustainable. Farm Sanctuary hopes that people who read their welfare standards report will see that the only way to truly treat animals humanely is to refrain from eating them.