Examining Food Labels

For every food label that accurately designates quality control, proper methods, and espouses practices that FACT endorses, there is a label that deliberately misleads the consumer into buying a product that does not meet their standards. The best defense against these bad labels is to be an informed consumer, and aware of what labels mean on the products you purchase at the store. Please review the below, as well as download, print, and cut/fold our Pocket Labels Guide.


Food labels FACT recommends:

American grassfed Association (AGA) Certified grassfed

Solely for grazing animals, all livestock production must be pasture, grass, and forage-based. The American Grassfed Association label applies to beef cattle, bison, goats, and sheep. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture for their entire lives. Key characteristics of this label include:

  • Pasture raised and outdoor access.
  • No hormones.
  • No antibiotics. 
  • Diet is 100% grass and forage.
  • Not confined to feedlots.

animal welfare approved

 An independent third-party certification administered by A Greener World, which also has a humane product search feature. Animals are required to be raised outdoors on pasture with strong welfare standards. Hormones and unnecessary antibiotics are prohibited (antibiotics are allowed if the animal is sick and needs treatment). Key characteristics of this label include:

  • Pasture raised and outdoor access.
  • No hormones.
  • Antibiotics only for sick animals.
  • No cages or crates.

certified grassfed by animal welfare approved

An optional additional accreditation for high-welfare farmers and ranchers who are Animal Welfare Approved (please see above) to certify their livestock production is pasture, grass, and forage-based. It is only available to farms that already meet existing Animal Welfare Approved standards. The label applies to beef cattle, bison, goats, and sheep. Key characteristics of this label include:

  • Pasture raised and outdoor access.
  • No hormones.
  • Antibiotics only for sick animals.
  • Grass fed.

certified Humane

This humane food certification program is administered by Humane Farm Animal Care, which also has a humane product search feature. Species-specific standards require a nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones, and that animals be raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors. Key characteristics of this label include:

  • Outdoor access required for most animals.
  • No hormones.
  • Antibiotics only for sick animals.
  • No cages or crates.
  • Ensure the ability for animals to engage in natural behaviors.

Global Animal Partnership (GAP)

Found on products at Whole Foods Market and growing to other grocery stores, this label from the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) can appear on individual packages of meat as well as at the meat counter. The label is representative of their 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program. Of the 5 steps, FACT recommends steps 4 & 5. Key characteristics of this label include:

  • No hormones.
  • No antibiotics. 
  • No cages or crates.

FACT recommends steps 4, 5, and 5+:

  • Step 4 – Pasture-centered; for example, standards specify that animals live continuously on pasture with access to shelter.
  • Step 5 – Animal-centered, with physical alterations prohibited. For example, pigs may not be castrated, or have nose rings or ear notches. In addition to Step 4 requirements.
  • Step 5+ – Animals spend their entire lives on a single farm, with a mobile or on-farm slaughter facility--no off-farm slaughter. In addition to Step 4 and 5 requirements.

Food labels FACT recommends with caveats:

USDA Certified organic

Food certified as organic typically denotes a good choice when choosing meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. FACT recommends the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic label with caveats due to the variable way standards are implemented. Organic regulations prohibit the use of hormones and antibiotics. Key characteristics of this label include:

  • Hens are uncaged inside barns or houses, with outdoor access required.
  • Dairy cows on pasture for at least 120 days a year.
  • No hormones or antibiotics.
  • Diet free from synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.
  • Inconsistent implementation of standards; for example some producers may not provide birds meaningful access to the outdoors.

certified naturally grown

Certified Naturally Grown is an alternative to the USDA Certified Organic label. FACT recommends the label with caveats. Certified Naturally Grown is tailored to small-scale farmers who sell directly to consumers in their local communities. Recommended with caveats; this label offers farmers lower certification fees and less paperwork compared to USDA Organic. Key characteristics of this label include:

  • Standards are very similar to USDA Organic with tighter requirements for access to pasture.
  • No hormones or antibiotics.
  • Diet free from synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.
  • Audits are done by other Certified Naturally Grown farmers or volunteers, not a third-party inspector.

Food labels FACT does not recommend or endorse:

100% Natural

The USDA defines the term “natural” for meat and poultry as “a product containing no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed.” In general, this label is not meaningful for meat, poultry, or eggs as it does not include any requirements related to the treatment of animals or farm animal welfare. Due to the lack of meaningful or verified animal welfare standards FACT does not recommend this label.


Free range

“Free-range” or “free-roaming” on a label implies that the bird had unrestricted access to the outside world. In reality, the term only guarantees that poultry have the opportunity to go outside--not that poultry actually go outside or have meaningful access to outdoor foraging. Further, the USDA defines "free-range" only for chickens raised for meat, and not for laying hens. Most eggs labeled as "free-range" or "free-roaming" are from laying hens not confined in battery cages, but the laying hens are confined indoors on the floor rather than in open pasture. Due to the lack of meaningful or verified outdoor pasture access for poultry FACT does not recommend this label.

raised without antibiotics

Products labeled as “No Antibiotics Used or Added” imply that no antibiotics were used in the raising of the animal. Most of these claims are unverified by an independent third-party auditor, which denotes that this label does not provide meaningful verification of responsible antibiotic usage.

Cage free

Products labeled as “Cage Free" implies that poultry are not confined to a cage, but they may still be contained indoors with no access--or limited--to the outside. Cage-free eggs are produced by hens that live in barns or buildings, moving around on the floor, rather than inside battery cages. These birds have some freedom of movement and the ability to engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting, and spreading their wings. However, because the cage-free label is not monitored or regulated by the federal government, cage free facilities vary greatly in terms of flooring, lighting, airflow, nesting facilities, and stocking density. In addition, this claim is not verified by an independent third party auditor which means there is not meaningful verification that the birds were indeed uncaged.

American humane certified

The American Humane Certified™ program (formerly known as the Free Farmed program) provides third-party, independent verification that certifies producers’ care and handling of farm animals meet the standards of American Humane Association. While the name of the label indicates a high level of animal welfare, in reality the American Humane Certified standards are the weakest of any third-party verified humane label. This organization does not require pasture access for any species, which makes it popular with industrial livestock operations. It also allows for egg production using battery cages, which is widely regarded as one of the most inhumane living conditions.

Food labels and packaging claims that are unnecessary:

No Hormones

Packages of chicken sold in supermarkets commonly sport a claim that reads “no added hormones.” While customers may interpret that the animals were raised humanely, in reality hormones are not permitted in chicken production by law. Using hormones with chickens and turkeys is illegal and no such product sold in the United States contains hormones. Therefore, a “no added hormones” claim on chicken and turkey is unnecessary and misleading. Hormones are often used in cattle production so this label does have a meaning for beef and milk although it does not indicate that the animals were treated humanely. Further, there often is no verification of this claim in beef. Hormones are also used in pigs.

Raised Cage Free

Unlike egg-laying hens, chickens raised for meat are not raised in cages. Confinement in cages causes bruising to the muscle, making it unappealing to purchasers. FACT believes that the “raised cage free” claim may give consumers the wrong impression that these birds were treated differently than birds on other large-scale, conventional operations.

If you would like more in-depth information about each of these labels, please read further and arm yourself with reputable information as you navigate the grocery aisles.