Thursday, October 28, 2010

Top green humane poultry, meat & dairy labels

Best Green, Humane Picks

If you eat animals but care about how they live and die, and felt discomfited by recent reports on chicken slaughter methods, rest assured there are humane alternatives. Look for third-party-verified, certified humane labels on poultry, eggs, dairy, and meat. Independent third-party vetting of claims is the gold green standard, as opposed to industry self-verification, which cannot be objective. The following seals mean that antibiotics are given only to sick animals; no growth hormones are administered; and feeding of animal parts to animals is prohibited. Animals are not confined in cages, and specific humane slaughtering requirements must be followed to qualify for the labels below (pasture/grass requirements are noted where applicable).

Animal Welfare Approved: This family farm label guarantees that cows and chickens spend most of their lives outdoors in the fields; has very specific humane handling and shelter standards; and gets top ratings from the World Society for Protection of Animals.

Certified Humane: Pasture time is not specified, although humane shelter (enough space to freely move about; no crates, cages, or being tied in stalls) and handling are.

Food Alliance Certified: Sets clear standards for lifetime access to pasture and humane treatment, including slaughtering. (See Food Alliance now has an additional, exclusively grassfed label

Demeter Biodynamic (meat, milk, cheese, eggs): Animals are guaranteed outdoor time at least partially on grass, and may not be confined.

American Grassfed Association (ruminant meat & dairy): Cows, sheep, and goats eat grass, period, and this standard requires that they spend most of their lives outside, in a pasture. Third-party-certified by the Food Alliance (see later in this list). Sick animals, if given antibiotics, are removed from the program.

Maine Quality Trademark (milk): No growth hormones are used; animal welfare is respected.

Good and Green but Not Guaranteed Humane

USDA Certified Organic: Better for you, but not necessarily for the animals. They eat only 100 percent certified organic grass, corn, or grain, and sick animals given antibiotics are removed from the program. While it's required that animals have “access” to pasture, this is currently not clearly defined except, since February 2010, for dairy cows. In the autumn of 2010 USDA is considering similar outdoor living guarantees for poultry. Human slaughtering is not addressed.

Lesser Labels: Not Third-Party Verified

United Egg Producer Certified: There is no third-party verification of humane treatment of creatures,nor pasture/outdoor acess requirement.

Cage-Free, Free Range or Free Roaming: There is no guarantee that the cows, chickens, or other animals actually got outdoors, and no third-party verification that they are not caged or confined, the Humane Society warns.

“Grass Fed”: The USDA defines this as the animal ate only 100 percent grass in its life, but third-party verification is not required.

USDA “Naturally Raised”: These products contain no hormones* or artificial colorings, and only a few antibiotics are allowed, but there’s no third-party verification.

Excerpted from my book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices (St Martin's Press, 2010).

For more green news and product tips on food, cleaning, personal care, plastics and more, come to our home page,, where you can also send me an email and ask me questions.

Mindy Pennybacker

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