The following terms are provided to help explain the great variety of labels we find on animal products. Read the packaging carefully, as you’ll see that not all labels are created equal. Some labels require strict guidelines to be used, whereas others are essentially meaningless. Becoming familiar with these labels can help consumers make more responsible and humane food choices.
USDA Organic - Outdoor access is required, although the quality and length of outdoor time is not specified. Temporary confinement is allowed. Animals are fed an organic, vegetarian diet. Hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. Beak cutting without painkillers is allowed. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing.
Animal Welfare Approved - Outdoor access is required except during inclement weather. Cages are prohibited. A minimum of 1.75 sq ft is required for laying hens to move and perform natural behaviors. They are provided bedding, litter for dust bathing, nesting materials, and nesting boxes. Hormones and non-therapeutic antibiotics are prohibited. Beak trimming and forced molting through starvation are prohibited. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing. (*Note: this label currently requires producers to be family farms, and is therefore difficult to find.)
American Humane Certified - Outdoor access is not required. A minimum of 8 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness is required per day. Confinement to cages is prohibited. All hens must have a minimum of 1.25 ft of space per hen to perform natural behavior. They are provided litter for dust bathing and nest boxes. Hormones and non-therapeutic antibiotics are prohibited. Beak trimming without painkillers are allowed before 11 days of age. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing.
Certified Humane - Outdoor access is not required. Excessive overcrowding is prohibited due to a stocking limit. Laying hens must have a minimum of 1ft x 1ft of space so hens can perform natural behaviors. Cages are prohibited. A minimum of 8 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness is required per day. They are provided litter for dust bathing and nest boxes. Hormones and non-therapeutic antibiotics are prohibited. Beak trimming without painkillers is allowed before 11 days of age. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing.
Free Range - (also known as Free Roaming) - The USDA has no "free range" standards for egg laying hens, only those raised for consumption. The animals typically live un-caged inside barns or warehouses. Free range is very similar to cage-free, except birds have some access to outdoors. However, duration is not specified and animals are not required to go outside. There are no restrictions on feed. There is no 3rd party auditing.
Cage-Free - Egg laying hens are kept un-caged inside barns or warehouses. Outdoor access is not required. Chickens can perform natural behaviors like walking, spreading their wings, and laying their eggs in nests. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted.
United Egg Producers Certified - This is a voluntary program that most of the egg industry complies with. Hens are confined in battery cages in space smaller than a sheet of paper per bird (9 in x 8 in). Hens cannot perform any natural behaviors, including spreading their wings. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited. Beak cutting without painkillers is allowed. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing.
Fertile - Eggs were laid by hens living with roosters, and therefore likely were not living in cages.
Hormone-Free and No Hormones Added - These labels have no relevance to the animals' living conditions. By law, hogs and poultry may not be given any hormones so the label is misleading.
100% Vegetarian-Fed - Birds are not fed any animal byproducts, and are therefore eating a more natural diet. This does not guarantee they were raised outdoors or on pasture, nor reflect humane living conditions.
Natural - This label applies only to how animal products are processed, and has no relevance to how the animals were treated while they were alive. It does not mean the animal was raised without hormones or antibiotics. According to the USDA, the 'natural' label can be placed on a product "containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product). The label must explain the use of the term natural (such as - no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed.)"
Paws & Learn Recommendation:
If you choose to consume eggs as a part of your diet, we strongly recommend buying a brand using the following labels. While they aren’t 100% cruelty-free, these certifications represent a more humane level of treatment than industry standards:
Pasture raised, Free Range and Cage-Free labels are also strongly recommended over purchasing standard eggs laid by hens confined in battery cages.
USDA Organic - Outdoor access is required for all animals, although quality and length of time outdoors is not specified. Ruminants (grazing animals) are required to have access to pasture, although "access" is not defined and animals may not utilize it. Livestock was not treated with hormones or antibiotics and was fed a pesticide-free diet. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing.
Certified Humane - A stronger standard than industry quality assurance programs, and includes beef cattle, dairy cattle, veal calves, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, broiler (meat) chickens, and egg-laying hens. Some of their improvements include: Dairy cattle are required to have a minimum of four hours of outdoor exercise daily. Confinement of pregnant sows (pigs) to gestation crates is prohibited, and bedding is required. Chickens for consumption are required to have litter for dust bathing, and slatted or wire flooring is prohibited. However, they permit some practices that allow animals to suffer, such as: Pigs and chickens are not required to have access to the outdoors, feedlot confinement of beef cattle is permitted, and physical mutilations like debeaking hens and tail docking pigs are allowed under some circumstances. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing.
American Humane Certified - A very similar standard to Certified Humane, with slightly higher standards for breeding pigs. They also include standards for bison. They have installed video cameras at veal facilities to help ensure compliance. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing.
Animal Welfare Approved - Has standards for beef cattle, dairy cattle, calves, pigs, chickens (layers and broilers), turkeys, and sheep. Standards for rabbits and ducks are being revised, and standards for bison are being drafted. Their standards are superior to those labels listed above in the areas of physical alterations, weaning and access to the outdoors and pasture. However, this label requires producers to be family farms which have much lower production capacity, and is therefore difficult to find. Compliance is verified through 3rd party auditing.
Free Range or Free Roaming - The animal has access to the outdoors each day, although there is no guarantee the animal actually spent any time outdoors.
Pasture Raised - Animals are raised outdoors on pasture instead of being fattened on feedlots or confined in a facility.
100% Grass-Fed or Grass fed - Animals eat only grass during their lifetime, with the exception of milk prior to weaning. They may not be supplemented with grain, grain products, animal byproducts or synthetic hormones. Animals must be provided continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Most grass-fed animals are pasture-raised, but some time may be spent in confinement being fed a grass diet. Antibiotics may be given to treat illness, though not to prevent illness or promote growth. Not verified by 3rd party unless accompanied by "USDA Verified" Shield.
Grain-Fed - In order to shorten the length of time it takes for cattle to reach slaughter weight (and therefore save money), grain is eventually introduced into their diet. A combination of grain, antibiotics, and hormones act as a growth stimulant. Since ruminants are designed to consume grass, when cows, sheep and goats are fed high grain diets they often suffer from digestive problems, poor liver health and lameness.
Hormone-Free, RBGH-Free, RBST-Free, and No Hormones Added - This label has no relevance to the animals' living conditions. The dairy labels mean that cows were not injected with hormones to increase milk production. By law, hogs and poultry may not be given any hormones.
No Antibiotic Use - No antibiotics were given to the animal during its lifetime. If an animal becomes sick, it is removed from the herd and treated, but it is not sold with this label. Since antibiotics are typically used in intensively confined animals, this label suggests (but does not guarantee) the animal was not raised on a factory farm.
No Routine Antibiotic Use - Antibiotics were not used to prevent illness or promote growth, but may have been administered if the animal became sick.
Naturally Raised - This term has no relevance to animal welfare, and does not mean the animal was raised outdoors. Producers use this term to indicate meat from animals that did not receive antibiotics or hormones, and have been fed only a vegetarian diet.
Natural - This label has no relevance to animal welfare nor the conditions in which it was raised. It does not mean the animal was raised without hormones or antibiotics, and it does not prohibit the use of animal byproducts in cattle feed. According to the USDA, the 'natural' label can be placed on a product "containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product). The label must explain the use of the term natural (such as - no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed.)"
Biodynamic - A holistic method of agriculture based on the philosophy that all aspects of the farm should be treated as an interrelated whole. Having emerged as the first non-chemical agriculture movement approximately 20 years before the development or "organic" agriculture, biodynamics has now spread throughout the world. Biodynamic farmers work in harmony with nature and use a variety of techniques, such as crop rotation and on-farm composting, to foster a sustainable and productive environment. Compliance is verified by a 3rd party.
No Label - The animals were most likely raised in factory farm conditions.
Paws & Learn Recommendation:
If you choose to consume meat or dairy in your diet, we strongly recommend buying products from animals that were Pasture Raised or grass-fed (with the USDA Verified Shield). This process is more natural and less stressful on the animal, better for the environment, and results in healthier more nutritious meat. See www.eatwild.com for more information.
We also recommend choosing products with one of the following certifications whenever possible:
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