Shoppers encounter a wide range of welfare claims on meat, egg, and dairy products. Most of these claims, like “free range” and “humanely raised,” are poorly regulated or outright deceptive. Only some offer credible information. Meat producers and retailers often use welfare claims and “green” branding to make animal products appear more humane than they really are, a phenomenon called humanewashing, and extensive consumer research has established that shoppers are confused. However, to Farm Forward’s knowledge, no prior research has examined the role of specific certifications in this widespread confusion or the extent to which consumers’ expectations are being met by these certifications.
We commissioned a survey of 1,219 American adults through YouGov, collecting data on consumer expectations and beliefs about both independent and industry certifications on several welfare issues, including access to pasture, genetic modification of animals, the use of physical mutilations, and more. Our findings confirm that the humanewashing tactics employed by retailers and meat, dairy, and egg producers through the use of certifications are as successful as they are cynical.
We found that Americans are largely unable to distinguish meaningful certifications from those that exist solely to obfuscate factory farming practices, and that, across the board, all certifications in our survey fell short of consumers’ beliefs about and expectations for them. Further, those who regularly seek humanely raised meat are the most susceptible to the effects of this deception.
In this report, we share the findings of our landmark survey and use it 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 Global Animal Partnership label, as an example of how even one of the most-trusted brands misleads consumers and contributes to confusion about welfare claims.