Know your labels
Meaningful, Third-Party Certifications
This five-step rating system ranges from Step 1 (no crates, no cages and no crowding) to Step 5+ (animals spend their entire life on pasture on the same farm).
No cages are permitted. Access to pasture and indoor enrichment is required, so animals raised under this standard have the capacity to exhibit essential natural behaviors that improve their quality of life.
No cages are permitted. Under this standard, access to the outdoors is not required for pigs and poultry, but is required for other species. Indoor enrichment is required so animals have the capacity to exhibit natural behaviors that improve their quality of life.
Most restrictive cages and feedlots are not permitted. However, painful mutilations are still permitted. Animals do not necessarily have access to pasture, though they will have access to some outdoor area, which may be limited to a screened in concrete “porch.” Antibiotics are prohibited and the feed is 100% organic. Note: In January 2017, the USDA approved a new rule to require higher animal welfare standards on organic farms—however, this rule was delayed by the current administration before it could be officially implemented. Tell the USDA to proceed with the new rule by taking action here.
Some, but not all, cages and crates are banned. It does allow enriched cages for laying hens and feedlots for beef cattle. Indoor enrichments are not required for chickens raised for meat.
Cage-free, free-range, and free-roaming
Terms like these have no legal definition in the US. While they are likely better than no label at all, the only way to be absolutely certain you’re actually getting a higher-welfare product is to look for the meaningful third party certifications listed on this page, which audit farms for adherence to higher animal welfare requirements.
This common term has no legal definition in the US, and can be used even if animals start their lives on grass, but spend the latter part of their lives on a feedlot. To be sure the cattle or sheep are 100% grass-fed or grass-finished, look for a certification from the American Grassfed Association.
Beware of these terms:
Natural or naturally-raisedThis claim has no relevance to animal welfare.
This means they are not fed animal byproducts, but has little relevance to animal welfare.
There is no legal definition for “humane.” Unless the product has a certification as listed on this page, there is little way of telling what is meant by this term.
Cage-free (for chickens raised for meat)
While “cage-free” is meaningful for egg-laying hens, no chicken raised for meat in the US is kept in a cage. This label is a meaningless distinction, indicating how chickens would be raised regardless of welfare policy.
Hormone-free (for poultry and pigs)
It is illegal to give poultry and pigs hormones. This label is a meaningless distinction indicating that the company is following the law.
For more information about animal welfare labels and what products to buy, download our free Food Guide!