It is so important to know exactly what you are putting into your body, wouldn’t you agree? While most of us live in spaces where we really cannot raise our own animals for meat, dairy, and eggs, we can still be good consumers demanding that we know where our food comes from and that those animals who are providing us with food are raised in a humane way. Some of us may have the luxury of a big or small garden to grow our own fruits and vegetables, but if you don’t, that’s okay too. Your secret weapon to keep your family eating healthy and humane foods this season is knowledge.
Before you write off that you might be able to raise some of your own farm-fresh products or at least your own fruits and vegetables, be sure to check Pinterest and the web for landscape gardening. It is the practice of creating a beautiful landscape that can also be used for food. (This site has been a great resource for me – I have a bit of a black thumb)
Over the last few decades, corporatized, industrialized agriculture has largely replaced America’s independent small farms—with catastrophic consequences for animals. While there is no strict definition, industrialized “factory farms” are characterized by extreme confinement of large numbers of animals with practices designed to maximize efficiency and profit, and little regard for animals’ well-being, sentience or natural behaviors. Factory farms often use animals bred to produce unnatural amounts of eggs, milk or meat, causing painful disorders and lameness.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking – Oh, well, I already buy “organic” everything. And maybe you do. But how can you be sure? Don’t be fooled. There are some pretty shady foods and labels out there, so make sure you are doing your research. Words like Organic, humanely raised, natural, cage free, free range, hormone free, antibiotic free and vegetarian fed, are thrown around all over the place. But in reality, they do not mean much.
Packages of meat, eggs, and dairy often bear terms that appear to indicate meaningful animal welfare standards, but only a fraction of them do.
This confusion prevents conscientious consumers from voting with their wallets for better treatment of farm animals.
Some of the most commonly misunderstood “labels”
- Natural: Does not impact animal welfare in any way.
- Free-Range: No legal definition for use on eggs, pork, beef or dairy.
- Humanely Raised/Humanely Handled: Undefined and subjective terms without codified standards.
- Hormone-Free/No Hormones Added: Hormones are not approved by law for use on pigs or poultry, so the term is meaningless on those products.
- Cage-Free: On eggs, this label indicates that hens were not raised in battery cages. However, it is an empty claim on poultry meat as meat birds are very rarely raised in cages, and are instead crowded into large, open sheds.
It’s important to understand the true meanings of food labels so you can make informed decisions and help animals by buying products that match your values. Learn more in this comprehensive guide from the ASPCA Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Label Guide.
Animals are not the only ones suffering because of these unnatural, inhumane conditions. Human health, the environment, and farmers are being hurt by the intensive farming systems employed on factory farms. I contemplated whether or not I should share a photo or two of some of these factory farm conditions – because let’s face it – it is sad, gruesome and terrifying really. But I want people to understand the impact of what is going on here. The impact of how powerful it is for us to buy these types of foods and feed them to our families.
Farms that are not properly maintained can be breeding grounds for Salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens that can be passed to humans through meat, dairy, and eggs, as well as through person-to-person contact. To combat unsanitary conditions, animals are fed large doses of antibiotics—but bacteria is constantly adapting and evolving.
Misuse, overuse, and dependence on antibiotics in our food system create the potential for dangerous, drug-resistant strains of bacteria to develop and spread among people and animals. It truly makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about this. I have often even considered eating meat altogether. I am not sure my husband would be on board – but at least I can make sure that I am armed with enough knowledge to get him meat, eggs, and dairy that come from humane and healthy conditions.
Here are more resources to help you get started:
- Shop with Your Heart Brand List – Plant-based and welfare-certified brands available at supermarkets across the country.
- Meat, Eggs and Dairy Label Guide – Download or print this handy guide to make the most informed decisions every time you shop.
- Certified Farms by State – Locate a nearby farm that’s certified by Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), Certified Humane (CH), or Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Steps 2 and above.
- How to Shop at the Farmer’s Market – Check out this video and list of questions to ask farmers so you can make the most humane choices at your local farmers market.
- Welfare Conscious Dining – Learn about REAL Certified, which integrates comprehensive farm animal welfare standards into its restaurant and foodservice certification program.
- Good Grocery Resources – Farm animal cruelty, foodborne illness, worker abuse, and pollution are interconnected problems, but you can help make our food supply healthier for people, animals, and the planet.
As consumers, we have the power to change how food companies treat farm animals. Take the first step today: Take the pledge to #ShopWithYourHeart at the ASCPA Shop With Your Heart website!
And don’t forget to enter to win some fun items from the ASPCA to show off your dedication to humane and healthy food choices!