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If you eat beef, we hope you’ll make a decision to reduce the amount and only purchase meat that comes from cattle who were treated according to publicly accessible and independently approved animal welfare standards.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. If you don’t deliberately seek out meat from ranchers who follow a higher standard of animal welfare, you can be certain that your meal came from an animal who was mistreated—though not quite as severely as chickens, pigs, and sea animals. Ranchers get a premium price for their animals when they follow good husbandry practices, so you can be sure that they will let you know when they do.
Unfortunately, the premium price that comes with high animal welfare standards has also encouraged a lot of deceptive labels. So how do you know what beef is best?
Creating alternatives to factory farming is a big job and one farmer can’t do it alone.
First, ignore any word on a label unless you are already familiar with its legal definition from a trusted source. Words like “free-range/roaming” and “natural” are poorly defined from a legal perspective and in no way indicate that meat came from animals raised in a high-welfare setting.
For basic welfare during the animal’s life, you want a “grass-fed” and “pasture-raised” animal—but these terms are poorly defined and without an independent certification it’s hard to know if the animals really spent their lives eating grass on pasture. It is even harder to tell if the animal was mutilated (castrated, dehorned, or branded) and how the animal was killed, as these inhumane practices have nothing to do with a cow being grass-fed or pasture-raised.
Perhaps the best way to ensure that your food came from animals who had both a higher welfare life and a better death is to buy your beef in bulk from a 100 percent grass-fed and pasture-raised beef ranch that you have personally visited and to personally arrange for the animal to be individually slaughtered. Farmers’ markets and food co-ops often foster these kinds of relationships. Abundant information on local, higher welfare farmers online is also available online. SustainableTable.org is a good place to start.
If a traditional supermarket or restaurant is your only option, the industry leaders—who don’t guarantee higher welfare animal products but do make finding them more likely—are Whole Foods among supermarkets and Chipotle among national restaurant chains. Beef with the American Grassfed Certified label indicates that the animals genuinely were pasture-raised and grass-fed (which those words alone do not guarantee). This certification, however, has important limitations such as the lack of regulations covering slaughter. Animal Welfare Approved and Global Animal Partnership Steps 4 through 5+ certifications also genuinely indicate significantly higher-than-average levels of welfare. Meats that carry the Certified Humane or Global Animal Partnership Steps 1 through 3 certifications come from animals who are raised by better-than-average methods, but their animal welfare standards are significantly weaker than steps 4 through 5+.
Whether you choose to reduce your meat consumption or support higher welfare farmers or both, we hope that you will join Farm Forward in our work to reduce the suffering of factory farmed animals.
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