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Farm Forward survey reveals widespread confusion over welfare labels

This page summarizes the results of a 2021 Farm Forward consumer survey revealing that consumers largely cannot understand the claims made by animal welfare certifications and that certifications and welfare-related marketing claims are brazenly out of sync with consumers’ values. Our 2022 consumer survey can be found here

Farm Forward’s Report, Humanewashing’s Effect on Consumers: Survey of Consumer Beliefs about Animal Welfare Certifications, analyzes the results of a new consumer survey of more than one thousand Americans nationwide. The survey results indicate that the majority of Americans have been misled by deceptive marketing tactics used by meat producers and retailers about animal welfare. Our survey corroborates a growing body of research conducted by the ASPCA, Consumer Reports, and others, providing damning evidence that these marketing tactics, known as humanewashing, have succeeded in persuading consumers that animal welfare claims like “cage-free,” industry-backed labels like One Health Certified (OHC) and American Humane Certified (AHC), and third-party animal welfare certifications like Global Animal Partnership (GAP) all indicate animals were raised in high welfare conditions. Unfortunately, the grim reality is that more than 99 percent of animal products come from factory farms, including products approved by welfare certifications or making claims like “cage-free” or “natural” on their packaging.

The Report shares findings from our survey and uses the data as a lens to understand the nature and prevalence of consumer deception surrounding animal welfare certifications and claims. We spotlight Whole Foods Market, which carries products with the GAP label, as an example of how even one of the most-trusted brands misleads consumers and contributes to confusion about welfare claims.

The humanewashing tactics employed by retailers and meat, dairy, and egg producers are as successful as they are cynical. Since 1990, global consumption of meat has doubled and is projected to keep rising, and rising with it are the meat industry’s contributions to animal suffering and a host of threats to public health, the environment, and worker safety. Yet, rather than invest in better welfare practices, the industry has instead opted to invest in sophisticated marketing tactics. These tactics include the use of unregulated terms on packaging that suggest more humane treatment of animals, as well as the development of a variety of animal welfare certifications whose labels appear on animal products in nearly every grocery store in the US.

Our goal when we commissioned this survey was to better understand how this proliferation of label claims and animal welfare certifications has impacted consumers’ perceptions of the animal products they encounter. Farm Forward has long advocated for certification as a means to improve welfare conditions for farmed animals. However, we have become increasingly concerned that even the most scrupulous certifications cause confusion and create a false sense among consumers that many animal products available in supermarkets align with their values.


Farm Forward’s online survey was conducted by YouGov from September 3 through 7, 2021. The total sample size was 1,219 adults. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all U.S. adults (aged 18+).

We asked participants a series of questions about three certifications, GAP, AHC, and OHC, as well as the label claim “cage-free” to ascertain their expectations for products bearing these labels as well as their beliefs about what these labels actually mean. Many questions asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with certain statements about welfare conditions in relation to specific certifications (e.g. that the certification guarantees an animal was raised on pasture) while showing respondents an image of the certification’s label.

General findings

Our findings indicate that 1) American consumers have high expectations for animal welfare—expectations that are not met by the vast majority of products bearing animal welfare labels, and 2) American consumers have a low understanding of what animal welfare labels actually mean (how the animals were actually raised). Moreover, the level of consumer confusion was as high for the most rigorous labels, like GAP, which certifies fresh meat products at Whole Foods, as it was for products sold with the most unscrupulous labels, like the sham certification One Health Certified, which is found on products at Aldi grocery stores.

Here are some key takeaways. Read our complete report for more detailed results and analysis.

Survey reveals high consumer expectations about animal welfare:

The survey indicates that many Americans equate “high animal welfare” and other welfare terminology with animals being raised on pasture.

  • 45 percent of Americans believe that all labels that certify high welfare need to ensure that animals are raised continuously on pasture.
  • 52 percent of Americans believe that the label “cage-free” should mean that chickens are raised on pasture.

Survey reveals low consumer understanding about animal welfare:

A high number of Americans agreed with incorrect statements about animal welfare when shown a particular animal welfare label.

  • 33 percent, 32 percent, and 30 percent of Americans incorrectly thought that GAP, AHC, and OHC respectively mean that animals are raised on pasture.
  • 39 percent, 38 percent, and 37 percent of Americans incorrectly thought that GAP, AHC, and OHC respectively mean that animals are raised with consistent access to the outdoors.
  • 38 percent of Americans incorrectly thought that the label “cage-free” means that chickens are raised on pasture.

The reality is that none of these labels guarantee that these conditions are met for the operations certified under them, and often are not even close. While some animals certified under GAP, for example, are raised on pasture (Steps 4, 5, and 5+), it is difficult to find those products in stores. Shoppers are far more likely to find products from animals—especially chickens and turkeys—who were raised on modified factory farms than they are to find products from animals who were raised on pasture, had ample access to the outdoors, were not mutilated, and so on. Ironically, in the case of AHC and OHC, these labels on chicken, turkey, beef, and pork products essentially guarantee that the animals lived on a factory farm. These results reveal a stark difference between what consumers believe to be true, what they believe should be true, and the truth about GAP, AHC, and OHC.

Other findings

While meaningful differences in animal welfare do exist between different certifications (even GAP’s lowest tier standards for chickens are better than the standards permitted by OHC), Americans responded similarly to questions about GAP, AHC, and OHC. This evidence supports our hypothesis that many consumers assume that all welfare certifications are essentially the same, and that the best certification standards (e.g. GAP’s hard-to-find Steps 4, 5, and 5+) have created a halo effect that increases consumers’ estimation of all certifications.

Our results also reveal that more conscientious consumers—those who reported buying humanely labeled animal products more often—agreed with incorrect statements more than those who said that they never buy humanely labeled animal products (in many cases, a difference of over 20 percent).

This finding especially worrying, given that one would expect those who are the most conscientious to also be the best informed, but it may be that conscientious consumers are simply more frequently exposed to more humanewashing in their pursuit of information.


Unfortunately, very few animal products on the market meet the highest standards that consumers expect. The bucolic image of a chicken, pig, or turkey roaming happily on pasture does not reflect the reality of what is actually available at your local Whole Foods or Aldi. These survey results reveal that what consumers believe is true about animal welfare labels is significantly out of sync with reality.

At the same time, our survey’s findings that consumers have high expectations for meaningfully better animal welfare, particularly that animals should be raised on pasture, should be an incentive for producers and retailers to drive up their animal welfare standards beyond the factory farm status quo. This data should persuade farmed animal and consumer protection advocates that the public is ready to demand greater improvements to welfare conditions than are offered by existing certifications.

It is not reasonable to expect consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase when humanewashing tactics have been so pervasive and so successful. The responsibility for raising animals in ways that align with consumers’ expectations should lie with producers, retailers, and the groups that regulate and monitor them.

Download our full report here.

To learn more about humanewashing and specific welfare certifications like One Health Certified and Global Animal Partnership, see our explainer, What is humanewashing?