Learn the 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 can 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 can 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2017, the USDA approved a new rule to require higher animal welfare standards on organic farms—however, this rule was withdrawn by the next administration before it could be officially implemented.
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 can be better than no label at all, 'cage-free' is a meaningless term for chickens and turkeys raised for meat because, on factory farms, they are never kept in cages. The only way to be sure you're 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.
“Grass-Fed” or “100% Grass-Fed” claims may only be applied to meat and meat product labels derived from cattle that were only (100%) fed grass (forage) after being weaned from their mother’s milk. The diet must be derived solely from forage, and animals cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season until slaughter. This means 100% grass-fed animals are never confined to a feedlot. When animals have less than 100-percent access to grass or forage the partial “grass-fed” claim must accurately reflect the circumstances of raising, e.g., “Made from cows fed 85% grass and 15% corn.” For meaningful assurance, look for products certified by the American Grassfed Association.
Beware of these terms:
Natural or naturally-raised
This claim has no relevance to animal welfare.
Vegetarian-fed means they are not fed animal byproducts, but this has little relevance to animal welfare.
"Humane" or "Humanely-Raised"
There is no legal definition for "humane" or "humanely-raised." Unless the product has a certification listed on this page, there is little guarantee that the term is meaningful.
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 follows the law.
For more information about animal welfare labels and what products to buy, download our free Compassionate Food Guide!