Know your labels

Because there is little legislative framework to protect farm animals in the United States, certifications are a critical component to ensure good farm animal welfare for the concerned consumer. Labels and certifications can be confusing. We’re here to help!


Animal Welfare Approved

No close confinement (cages, crates or tie stalls) are permitted. Access to pasture is a must and animals are allowed to exhibit their natural behavior. You can find where to buy these products here.

Certified Humane Raised and Handled

This means that the product meets the Humane Farm Animal Care program specification where no close confinement is permitted, such as cages, crates and tie stalls. Animals must not be overcrowded and must have indoor enrichment, such as perches for laying hens and straw for pigs. Access to outdoors is not required for pigs and poultry, but is required for other species. You can download their app to search for Certified Humane products near you or search on their site.

5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program

Primarily found at Whole Foods Market, this program is run by the Global Animal Partnership. It is based on a five-step rating system. The ratings range from Step One, “no crates, no cages and no crowding” to Step Five, “animal centered — animals spend their entire life on the same farm.”

USDA Organic

In this system, the worst close confinement systems (cages and crates) 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’. This certification means that no antibiotics are used and the feed is 100% organic.

American Humane Certified

This certification does not permit most, but not all, cages and crates. For example, it does not allow gestation crates. They do allow for enriched cages for laying hens and close confinement feedlots for beef cattle. They do not require enrichment for indoor raised meat chickens.


Natural or naturally raised

This claim has no relevance to animal welfare.

Cage free – eggs

With this label, you can be sure hens are not raised in cages. However, it does not mean that hens are given access to outdoors.


Cattle and sheep are given continuous access to the outdoors during the growing season and are permitted to exhibit natural behaviors, such as grazing. They are given forage and grass only to eat, except for milk before weaning. The claim can be voluntarily verified by the USDA.

Vegetarian fed

This means they are not fed animal by products, but has little relevance to animal welfare.


There is no legal definition for ‘humane’. Unless the product has a certification as listed above, there is little way of telling what is meant by this term.

Free range chickens and turkeys

The birds should have outdoor access, though there is no legal definition of this. No information on stocking density, the frequency or duration of how much outdoor access must be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals is defined. Producers only have to demonstrate to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

Free roaming

This will mean that no cages are used. This does not mean animal will have outdoor access. It could mean that they are ‘roaming freely’ within a barn or long house. However, it says nothing about the space the animals are given.

Pasture raised

If you are looking for animal raised on pasture or outdoors, your best bet is to look for the term ‘pasture raised’.

Pointing out the obvious

Cage free – chicken meat

In the United States, no meat chickens are raised in cages. Cages are only used in the US for egg laying hens. Standard practice for broiler chickens involve crowding them into long enclosed houses, where 30,000 chickens cover the floor wall to wall. So when a label states the chickens are raised cage free, they are pointing out the way in which meat chickens are raised anyhow.

Hormone free

It is illegal to give poultry and pigs hormones. So if a poultry or pig product states they are not feeding their animals hormones, they are only pointing out that they are following the law.

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