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Putting Your Money Where the Humane Label Is

Humane Farm Animal Care, a new nonprofit certification and labeling program for products made from humanely raised animals, is seeking shelters’ help in encouraging conscientious consumption

Humane Farm Animal Care, a new nonprofit certification and labeling program for products made from humanely raised animals, is seeking shelters’ help in encouraging conscientious consumption

A hundred years ago, when dogs lived outside and cats were valued for little more than their mousing abilities, few people could have predicted what a century of progress would yield for the animals we now call “companions”: countless local, state, and federal laws designed to protect them from neglect and cruelty; implementation of humane euthanasia methods that would eventually replace drowning, electrocution, gassing, and shooting; and a societal shift in the way we care for our canine and feline friends.

But back then, few could have predicted that an opposite phenomenon would rear its ugly head almost simultaneously: the systematic reduction of “farm” animals from living creatures deserving of respect to mere machines valued solely for their profit-making potential. Perversely, as the welfare standard for cats and dogs has improved steadily, the humane family farm has given way to intensive factory systems that keep animals so confined, force-fed, and weakened that many can barely even move by the time they are slaughtered.

Now a new organization aims to alter the plight of the 8 billion-plus farm animals paying the price of industrialization and bottom-line mentalities—and it’s looking to cat and dog advocates for help. Humane Farm Animal Care, launched this spring in partnership with The HSUS, the ASPCA, and the Massachusetts SPCA, is asking local animal shelters to sign on to a new initiative that will certify and label eligible meat, egg, and dairy products as humanely raised and handled.

Shelters can support the certification and labeling initiative by promoting it in newsletters and online, sending press releases, and encouraging constituents to request humanely produced food from restaurants and retailers. Downloadable from the organization’s website (www.certifiedhumane.org), sample letters created by Humane Farm Animal Care use the power of peer pressure to persuade food buyers to reconsider their options: “Recent research with over 1,000 U.S. adults concluded that ‘the majority of consumers ... want to know that the animals they eat have been treated well and raised in a safe and healthy environment,’” the letter reads.

Advocating for farm animals on the local level is not such a stretch even for shelters that don’t normally handle farm animals or take on farm animal issues, says Adele Douglass, the new organization’s executive director. “When humane organizations started way back in the day, it was to help all animals,” she says. “I think this would give shelters opportunities to attract new members to their organizations—people who care about dogs and cats and who also care about farm animals.”

The labeling program is not an “anti-meat” campaign, says Douglass, but rather a large-scale grassroots initiative aimed at improving the lives of farm animals through promotion of consistent humane standards. Developed in consultation with a team of veterinarians and university professors who comprise the organization’s scientific committee, the standards ensure that producers and processors keep animals in conditions that “offer sufficient space, shelter, and company of same-species animals to limit stress; protect an animal’s health with a veterinary health and disease prevention plan; and assure good nutrition, including ready access to fresh water and a diet that maintains full health and vigor.”

As a result, eggs with the “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” label will come only from hens who are kept cage-free. Farmers who want to put the label on pig-derived products will be prohibited from using gestation stalls; those making dairy products must avoid tying cows in stalls. “Downer” animals, or those too sick to walk, cannot be transported or used for food. The new certification program also prohibits the use of growth hormones and allows only regular diets of quality feed free of antibiotics.

Those who've already looked for humanely raised food in the past may see in the new labeling elements of the American Humane Association's "Free Farmed" program. The similarities are no coincidence; Douglass was also involved in the development of that program and had helped sign on 15 producers in just two and a half years. "Free Farmed" was the first certification program in the United States that used labels to help consumers select products made from humanely treated animals. But after AHA decided it couldn't guarantee a long-term funding commitment, Douglass led the creation of a new nonprofit that relies on multiple funding sources. (Meanwhile, the "Free Farmed" certification program continues to move forward, according to an AHA spokeswoman.)

As part of the user-fee-based program, producers, processors, and animal haulers pay for the service of being inspected and certified. Humane Farm Animal Care certification agents inspect farms annually, using a process verified by the United States Department of Agriculture.

It’s a market-based solution—one that is ultimately more feasible and more effective than legislative activism, says Douglass. As a former lobbyist and Congressional staff member, Douglass knows that getting laws passed can be a slow process; often by the time something finally makes its way to the President’s desk for signature, the new mandate has already become the status quo.

But the “Certified Humanely Raised & Handled” label offers an exciting alternative, allowing consumers to vote with their dollars and giving producers a powerful incentive to change. “The success of this program is that the carrot is better than the stick—a reward to raise animals the right way,” says Douglass. “People are more willing to change for a positive benefit than for a punishment.”

The fate of farm animals in factories has finally crept onto the radar screen of national media outlets, and surveys reveal that many consumers are willing and ready to pay for humanely raised food from farms that do not harm the environment or perpetuate the kinds of dangerous pathogens that routinely taint factory-farmed products.

“As more people are learning how their food is produced, they are demanding changes be made, changes that improve the lives of farm animals,” says Michael Appleby, Ph.D., vice president for farm animals and sustainable agriculture for The HSUS and a member of Humane Farm Animal Care’s scientific committee. “We’re pleased to be part of the new ‘Certified Humane’ label because it will make a difference in the lives of farm animals while giving consumers the ability to make their opinion count through their purchasing decisions.”

“There are a lot of people in our rural area who are concerned about animal welfare but won’t necessarily become vegetarians or vegans,” says Dubuque Humane Society executive director Jane McCall, who signed up as a sponsor of the humane labeling campaign. “And I think this is a good way to kind of take the middle of the road where you want to help out the animals but you don’t want to go to the extremes of not eating meat.”

McCall’s roots in her Iowa farming community run deep—she spent 18 years farming with her first husband. That background can only help her when she begins to promote the certification program in her community, where farmers are already trying to band together to take animals to much smaller plants, where they have more say in the production process. “There are a lot of family farms—and a lot of farms that could be certified as humane” in the Dubuque area, McCall says.

When executive director Nicky Ratliff presented the idea of supporting the “Certified Humane” label to board members at the Humane Society of Carroll County in Westminster, Maryland, they voted unanimously in favor of it. An advocate of the family farm who serves on the local agricultural commission, Ratliff says she’s seen people on small farms in her area treat their animals better than many treat their pets. As a self-described “conscientious omnivore,” Ratliff says, “I and my board of directors care about what happens to animals from the farm to the food plate.”

Protecting animals, whether they are cats, dogs, or pigs, is part of the mission of most humane organizations, says Joan Carlson Radabaugh of the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County. Located in citrus country, Radabaugh’s rapidly developing area is home to a number of people who aren’t necessarily vegetarians but who are concerned nonetheless about how animals are raised in food production industries. “It’s very much a part of our mission to be a source to the community on information pertaining to farm animals as well as domestic animals,” Radabaugh says.

Shelter directors who may feel gun-shy about venturing into the farm-animal arena would be comforted to know that Humane Farm Animal Care believes in avoiding attacks on companies or other players in the market, preferring to focus instead on promoting the positive. “And we don’t say that what’s in the store is bad and our stuff is good,” says Douglass. “We say, ‘This is important, and we believe it’s important to you, and therefore you should buy products with this certification.’ It’s just more proactive rather than negative.”

“The shelters can be part of this—they can ‘own’ this program in their community,” says Douglass.

If you’re interested in supporting Humane Farm Animal Care and conducting outreach campaigns or distributing information on the local level, send your name and contact information to Adele Douglass at adele@humanefac.org.

 

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