What do the most common labels on animal products actually mean?

Food Day is an excellent time to learn about and make food choices that benefit animals and sustainable farmers alike. At The Humane Society of the United States we support farmers and ranchers who are good stewards of the land and animals; as a fourth generation Missouri farmer, I am one of these farmers. We also work to eliminate the most inhumane practices in industrialized farming. We promote eating with conscience and embracing the Three Rs: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

The current level of meat consumption in the U.S. – nearly the highest per capita in the world—cannot be sustained. It’s better for animals, for consumers and for the environment to lower our rate of consumption. By reducing the total number of animals raised for food, we place greater value on humane, sustainable agriculture, and rural economies can prosper with consumer spending distributed more to individuals who show farming know-how and a respect for animals. The result will be more farmers on the land and a proportional decrease in factory farms.

The HSUS urges those who purchase animal products to avoid factory farmed products and buy foods from farms and ranches that adhere to higher animal welfare standards. One great method for sourcing high animal welfare products is to purchase directly from farmers either at their farms or at your local farmers’ market. You can ask how the animals were raised or see for yourself. When you can’t see or ask about animal welfare, check out labels such as the Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Program, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, and American Grassfed Association. Finally, when dining out at a restaurant, research the restaurant’s approach to farm animal welfare by visiting its web page, phoning in advance, or asking the server in person.

Today, we are too disassociated from what occurs in the food production system, and greater transparency and understanding will inevitably close the gap between how we believe animals should be treated and how they are actually treated.

Visit to see what the most common animal product labels do—and don’t—mean.



Joe Maxwell is Vice President of Outreach and Engagement for The HSUS. In this role, he works directly with family farmers, helping them organize into producer groups to open direct markets for their own products. Joe grew up on a family farm in the small town of Rush Hill, Missouri, the son of a hard-working family farmer. As a fourth-generation farm boy, he learned from his grandfather and father the value of being a good steward of the land and the animals you raise. Joe and his twin brother Steve carry on these values on the same family farm. Along with more than 50 other family farmers, they sell pork certified by the Global Animal Partnership to Whole Foods and other markets.

Joe served as the 45th Lieutenant Governor for the state of Missouri, and also served in the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate. During his time as an elected official, he did not lose sight of the value that family farms hold in our society, in our economy, and in our environment. He was one of only a few legislators to pass a state ban on packer ownership of livestock and a state Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program. Since leaving office in 2005, Maxwell has continued to fight for those values he learned at a young age on his family's farm. He focuses on sustainable agriculture practices, which include sustainability of the farm, the rural economy, the environment, and the welfare of the animals.

Showing 2 reactions

  • commented 2013-08-21 15:06:33 -0400
    This welfarist approach is just the same exploitation. Don’t fool yourself. Yous ethical veganism is the answer to stop animal suffering. They are not things they must have rights, they are not something to eat, they are someone to respect.
  • commented 2013-08-21 13:58:54 -0400
    Whilst I believe that anything which reduces suffering must be encouraged, I maintain that veganism is the moral baseline in all principled discussions of animal welfare. There is no such thing as humane killing. Please support stock-free faming and permaculture. It’s the only sustainable, truly humane alternative to factory farming.
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