Humane Food Labels

FACT recommends purchasing products that have third party verified labels, meaning that a credible outside source audits the farm to ensure it follows the practices implied by the label.

With this in mind, certification can be too time consuming or expensive for a small family farm to pursue. A farm in your local area may use humane practices but not be certified - to learn more about shopping humanely in these kinds of situations, visit our page on shopping at the farmers market.

If you would like to get involved in supporting humane farming methods, consistent labeling, and greater transparency, sign up for our action alerts and make your voice heard. 

 
 

Food labels FACT recommends:

animal welfare approved

This certification has a humane product search feature.  Animals are raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors.

  • Animals raised outdoors on pasture.
  • No hormones.
  • Antibiotics only for sick animals.
  • No cages, crates, or tethers.
  • Welfare-oriented slaughter guidelines.

certified Humane

This certification has a humane product search feature. Animals are raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors. 

  • Outdoor access for most, but not all animals.
  • Space and environmental enrichment requirements for animals raised indoors.
  • No hormones.
  • Antibiotics only for sick animals.
  • No cages, crates, or tethers.
  • Welfare-oriented slaughter standards.

Global Animal Partnership (GAP)

Found at Whole Foods Market and expanding to other grocery stores. This label consists of a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program. All steps require:

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

FACT recommends steps 4, 5, and 5+:

  • Step 4 – Pasture-centered; animals live continuously on pasture with access to shelter.
  • Step 5 – Animal-centered; physical alterations prohibited. For example, pigs may not have nose rings. 
  • Step 5+ – Animals spend their entire lives on a single farm.
 

American grassfed Association (AGA) Certified grassfed

Applies to grazing animals (cows, bison, goats, and sheep) and pigs. All livestock production is pasture, grass, and forage-based. Grazing animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture for their entire lives.

  • Pasture raised and continuous outdoor access.
  • No hormones
  • No antibiotics. 
  • 100% grass and forage diet for grazing animals.
  • No standards for slaughter.

certified grassfed by animal welfare approved

Applies to grazing animals (cows, bison, goats, and sheep.) All livestock production is pasture, grass, and forage-based. Grazing animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture for their entire lives. This is an additional accreditation for high-welfare farmers who are already Animal Welfare Approved (see above).

  • Pasture raised and continuous outdoor access.
  • No hormones.
  • Antibiotics only for sick animals.
  • 100% grass and forage diet.
  • Welfare-oriented slaughter standards.
 

Food labels FACT recommends with caveats:

USDA Certified organic

Food certified as organic can be 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. 

  • 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 Organic label. It 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.

  • 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:

100% Natural

This label is not meaningful as it does not include any requirements related to farm animal welfare. 

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."

 

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Free range

This label only guarantees that poultry have the "opportunity" to go outside--not that poultry actually go outside or have meaningful access to outdoor foraging.

Most eggs labeled as "free-range" are from hens confined indoors on the floor rather than in open pasture.

raised without antibiotics

Most "antibiotics free" claims are unverified by an independent third-party auditor.

This label does not provide meaningful verification of responsible antibiotic usage.

Cage free

Products labeled as “Cage Free" imply that poultry are not confined to a cage, but they may still be contained indoors with no access to the outside.

These birds have some freedom of movement and the ability to engage in 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, nesting facilities, and stocking density.

This claim is not verified by a third party auditor, which means there is no meaningful verification that the birds were uncaged.

American humane certified

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:

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No Hormones

These birds are treated no differently than birds on other large-scale, conventional operations.

Hormones are not permitted in chicken and turkey production by law - no such product sold in the US contains hormones.

Hormones are often used in pork and cattle production, so this label does have a meaning for beef and pork. However, this claim is not verified by a third party auditor.

Raised Cage Free Chicken

These birds are treated no differently than birds on other large-scale, conventional operations.

In general, chickens raised for meat are not raised in cages. Confinement in cages causes bruising to the muscle, making it unappealing to purchasers.

 

Looking for even more information? We also have tips for finding humane restaurants and humane food at the farmers market.