When shoppers buy animal products labeled with impressive-looking certifications and claims, most imagine an animal who was raised on pasture, not a factory farm. Unfortunately, in most cases, consumers are misled.
Even at leading restaurants and natural food retailers, where customers pay a premium price for animal welfare, most animal products come from factory farms. Humanewashing—the use of labels and imagery to make consumers think animal welfare is higher than it is—constitutes the single biggest menace to the growing global movement to end factory farming. Most of the claims you commonly see, like “all natural,” “sustainably raised,” “humanely raised,” or “raised on a family farm,” have absolutely no meaning when it comes to how farmed animals are raised. These are marketing terms with no legal definition, or are terms created by meat companies, with no more relevance to animal welfare than the images of smiling cows and hens adorning store shelves.
Even most of the terms that have legal definition don’t meet the public’s expectations. For example, a 2021 Farm Forward survey found that 45 percent of Americans believe that all animal welfare certifications need to ensure that animals are raised continuously on pasture, and more than half of consumers thought the “cage free” label should mean that chickens live on pasture. In reality, hens raised “cage free”—like more than 99 percent of farmed animals in the U.S.—live confined to factory farms.
Ongoing deception from the meat industry makes recommending specific labels a challenge, which is why we encourage consumers to eat as little meat as possible, ideally none. For consumers committed to purchasing animal products, our label guide offers guidance for which labels to avoid and the few that ensure higher welfare standards for farmed animals.
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What labels do you look for—”Cage Free,” “Humanely Raised,” “Natural?” Far from helping us make informed choices, the meat industry uses many labels to humanewash.
Certifications today enrich corporations that profit from factory farming and shield it (and themselves) from criticism…Some real if modest welfare improvements for animals are occurring, but it is dubious that welfare certifications are in any way driving these changes and [it’s] beyond question that they are confusing and deceiving consumers.