At first glance, a bold green label touting “Responsible Animal Care” might look like a panacea for consumers navigating the global pandemic in search of healthier, safer, and more humane foods. But today, Farm Forward joins a diverse coalition of more than 50 environmental, public health, and animal advocacy organizations, including the Center for Food Safety, Natural Resources Defense Council, ASPCA, and the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the George Washington University, in condemning the meat industry’s latest effort to deceive these very consumers through this legitimate-appearing “One Health Certified” (OHC) certification—and urging restaurants, retailers, and meat producers to steer clear of it. The warning comes on the heels of Farm Forward’s new report exposing the pervasiveness of humanewashing in the certification business.
Unlike more meaningful animal welfare certifications that at least attempt to raise the floor for animal welfare, OHC, which now adorns store-brand chicken at major grocers like ALDI and BJ’s, is merely the brainchild of, and a marketing vehicle for, the nation’s sixth largest poultry producer, Mountaire Farms. As a new public health framework called One Health has emerged to draw attention to the interconnections between human, environmental health, the meat industry, with Mountaire leading the charge, has coopted the One Health phrase to mislead consumers about the nature of its products—at a time when consumers are scrutinizing animal agriculture’s role in environmental degradation, antibiotic resistance, and chronic and infectious diseases more than ever.
In a statement, the coalition writes, “The industry-friendly OHC standards capitalize on borrowed, unearned legitimacy from over 15 years of national and international intergovernmental One Health work to promote interdisciplinary approaches to human, animal and environmental health.” OHC is administered by an apparently independent organization called the National Institute of Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education (NIAMRRE), but, in reality, NIAMRRE is deeply entangled with the industry actors it is charged with regulating. Its relationship with Mountaire can be traced to the very beginning: Mountaire applied for the OHC trademark in 2017 and was the first (and so far only) meat company to adopt the program.1 Other producers must pay a substantial fee to join the program, creating a fundamental conflict of interest: NIAMRRE’s business model depends on industry dollars to grow the OHC program, so OHC can only aim its standards as high as producers are willing to go.
It’s already clear that they aren’t aiming high: G. Don Ritter, DVM, ACPV, the Director of Technical Marketing of Mountaire Farms, explained in a recent webinar that the primary purpose of a label is not to actually improve, but to “reduce consumer concerns about buying” a product.2 From Mountaire’s point of view, there’s no need to make costly improvements as long as you can trick shoppers into believing you have.
As the coalition’s statement reveals, behind OHC’s holistic-looking logo bearing checkmarks for biosecurity, veterinary care, antibiotic restrictions, animal welfare, and environmental impact, its standards are paltry. OHC’s animal welfare standards simply enshrine routine factory farming practices. Producers can choose between basic industry trade group standards (the National Chicken Council or the National Turkey Federation) or American Humane Certified (AHC), an older, more established industry humanewashing scheme. The standard factory farming practices condoned by the AHC label include crate confinement for gestating and nursing sows, permanent indoor confinement (except for AHC’s free-range or pasture-raised certifications for laying chickens), and dehorning of cows.3 The coalition elaborates, “Most importantly for poultry welfare, OHC does not encourage genetically robust birds demonstrating higher welfare outcomes, nor does it require reasonable stocking density limits, lighting schedules, or environmental enrichment, all of which are key components of meaningful poultry welfare certification and auditing programs.”
OHC’s antibiotic standards are almost as bad as its animal welfare standards. OHC allows repeated, perpetual use of medically important antibiotics for disease treatment and control without consequences, as long as veterinarian recommendations are followed and documented, as well as their use in the hatchery or in ovo under certain circumstances.4 While that may sound good, the standards fail to establish a limit on the duration for which antibiotics can be used and what measures must be taken to ensure animals do not get sick in the first place. Ultimately, OHC standards do nothing to alleviate the crowded conditions within factory farms that facilitate the spread of diseases, infections, and parasites.5 OHC also permits the routine use of antibiotics that are described as “nonmedically important” for human use. This means that drugs such as ionophores and bacitracin “may be used to maintain animal health and welfare.”6 In practice, these classes of drugs are often fed to animals continuously to compensate for unsanitary conditions.7
As an environmental certification, OHC’s standards are, unsurprisingly, mere greenwashing. While OHC producers must calculate their carbon footprint, there is no built-in expectation for them to meet a certain standard or actually reduce it over time. Additionally, OHC does not implement any form of monitoring for other environmental hazards, like antibiotic runoff, ammonia pollutants, pathogens, or the development of antimicrobial resistance. Producers must meet local and federal laws regarding waste disposal and nutrient management plans—but meeting a legal baseline for an industry that routinely, and legally, destroys critical habitat, contaminates freshwater, and is one of the country’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. As Farm Forward and the coalition conclude, “It is unclear what OHC certifies except lawful behavior, which hardly needs a certification.”
By offering consumers a false sense of security at the precise moment the public is waking up to the dangers of industrial animal farming, OHC hopes to improve upon the success of certifications like AHC to sustain and increase profits for the worst meat producers.
While OHC is in its infancy, if left unchecked, it could quickly evolve into the American meat industry’s next (and more sophisticated) generation of humanewashing. That’s why, in an accompanying consensus statement, the coalition outlines its vision for a true One Health framework that will encourage producers and retailers considering an OHC partnership to think beyond this thinly veiled marketing scheme to the possibility of transformational change in their supply chains:
Promoting animal health while minimizing the need for antimicrobials is integral to an authentic One Health framework … These holistic systems include, at a minimum, animal breeds and strains selected for health and resilience rather than for maximum growth, weaning practices that maximize animal health, preventive vaccinations, high-quality feed and nutrition, and health-optimized sanitation and living conditions, such as low-density housing to avoid overcrowding and consequent stress.
As Farm Forward continues to expose the dirt behind OHC’s humanewashing, we encourage its biggest partners, including ALDI, to peel this deceptive label off their products before any more consumers are duped.
Join the movement: Send a quick, polite message to ALDI today encouraging it to ditch the humanewashing OHC label.