The following certified food labels are the only claims that require compliance with a defined set of standards and are verified by a third-party audit.
ANIMAL WELFARE APPROVED (Dairy, Eggs, Chicken, Goose, Duck, Turkey, Beef, Bison, Lamb, Goat, Pork, Rabbit)
This program is administered by the non-profit Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), a USDA-approved third-party label, and supports family farmers to raise their animals with the highest welfare standards possible, outdoors in a pasture or range. The standards do not allow or permit tail docking of pigs and cattle, beak cutting of poultry, and pain relief is required for removing horns from cattle. There are also set standards for breeding, transport and slaughter. This label has the most stringent guidelines and is only issued to meat that comes from independent family farms so it may be difficult to find, but products with this label are the most humane meat products on the market so far today.
Here is more information about AWI
Brochure of Animal Welfare Approved Farm (PDF)
CERTIFIED HUMANE (Dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, lamb, goat, pork)
This certification refers to producers providing minimum space allowances and indoor environmental enrichment for chickens raised for meat, egg-laying hens and pigs. Cattle can be raised on feedlots or factory farms. Pigs can have their tails docked. Hens and turkeys can have their beaks de-beaked. Access to the outdoors is not required for birds raised for meat, egg-laying hens and pigs. Specific standards do refer to breeding the animals, transporting the animals and slaughtering the animals. The non-profit Humane Farm Animal Care is a third-party welfare certification program that oversees the applications.
Here are Certified Humane’s Standards
Certified Humane’s Comprehensive Standards Comparison Chart
Certified Humane’s Laying Hens Standards Comparison Chart
AMERICAN HUMANE CERTIFIED (Dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, lamb, goat, pork)
The American Humane Association (AHA) administers this third-party welfare certification program that provides the lowest or least amount of space allowances of all the humane certification programs, and does permit the use of battery cages for housing egg-laying hens. Also allowed are tail docking for pigs and de-beaking hen’s beaks without any pain medication or anesthesia. Access to the outdoors is not required. Specific standards do refer to breeding the animals, transporting the animals and slaughtering the animals.
Here are American Humane’s Certification Standards
CERTIFIED ORGANIC (Dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, lamb, goat, pork)
The National Organic Program sets the standards and regulations for this certification. The standards do not address most animal care or welfare issues like weaning newborns, minimum space requirements, handling of animals, physical alterations, transport or slaughter. The only standards with this certification refer to providing access to the outdoors for all animals, access to pasture and grass for ruminants (cattle, goats and sheep), fresh air and sunlight, and the ability for the animal to move. The USDA agrees that there is an inconsistency problem amongst the certifiers. Compliance to standards is verified by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agency.
ANIMAL GRASSFED CERTIFIED (Dairy, beef, lamb and goat)
This certification requires continuous access to pasture and a diet of 100% grass and forage. The animal cannot be “finished” on a feedlot to fatten them. Confinement, hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. Verification of standards is done by a third-party certification program administered by the American Grassfed Association. There are no standards for the animals regarding breeding, transport or slaughter.
FOOD ALLIANCE CERTIFIED (Dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, lamb, pork)
This certification supports “safe and fair working conditions, humane treatment of animals, and good environmental stewardship.” Access to the outdoors and giving anesthesia or pain relief is not required. Certification is based on an “average” score and not all standards must be met. The program is administered by a non-profit sustainable agriculture organization.
GLOBAL ANIMAL PARTNERSHIP (Chicken, turkey, beef and pork)
This is not a humane certification program, but an animal welfare rating program. It is a six-tier scale that maintains higher (they may be minimal) animal welfare standards toward the top end of the scales, and includes standards for access to the outdoors and to a pasture, the treatment of animals, and transport, but not breeding nor slaughtering.
Today, Whole Foods requires all beef, chicken, pork and turkey in their fresh meat cases come from producers who have achieved certification to the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step® Animal Welfare Rating. This animal welfare rating program is under harsh criticism by a number of animal activist organizations for being meaningless and inhumane to animals, and representing deceptive marketing and advertising to consumers.