Delicious Living Blog

5 ways to check if your meat is humane

by Jenny Ivy
May 01, 2017

When it comes to feeling confident that poultry and beef are sourced using humane methods, shoppers are increasingly pushing for the veil to lift between the meat industry and what they see at the grocery store.

Only a couple weeks ago, the National Organic Standards Board invited the public to weigh in on whether organic meat and poultry producers should be held to higher animal welfare standards.

The issue, which was debated in Denver (only a few miles from the Delicious Living office), attracted criticism from consumer advocates who pointed to discrepancies among USDA organic rules. They argue that organic meat and poultry companies are not being held to the same standards. In fact, they say, there could be a huge difference between how Company A treats their animals versus Company B, and yet they're both still labeled "organic."

“Consumers expect organic farms to adhere to strong and consistent standards, including high standards for animal welfare,” the Denver Post quoted Charlotte Vallaeys, a senior policy analyst with Consumer Reports who testified at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic standards meeting. “That includes letting chickens outdoors where they can move around freely, rather than continually cooped up indoors.”

The USDA issued a rule in January for livestock and poultry producers to meet requirements for organic animal living conditions, transportation and slaughter. The rule was supposed to take effect on March 20, but it's been delayed, in part because there has been pushback from some agricultural businesses. So until those standards are etched into law, a warehouse or barn that simply allows their chickens to gather on a small concrete slab outside with fencing and a roof above will continue to meet USDA organic standards.

This isn’t fair to consumers. And when it comes to feeling confident that their poultry and beef are sourced using humane methods, people are increasingly pushing for the veil to lift between the meat industry and what they see at the grocery store. How do we know our wishful daydreams of cows and chickens frolicking in grassy open fields is not just a fantasy?

Maybe one day every animal product will come with full disclosure right on the packaging. But until that day comes, we’re thankful for inquiries and examinations that come from places like Consumer Reports, which released a Beef Report to help dissect the convoluted world that is the meat industry.

The report is a couple years old, and it’s long – 29 pages to be exact. But it’s still a forthright guide to help us all feel more confident when we go shopping for meat. To make things much, much easier, we’re going to cut right to it – this is what you should look for on ground beef packaging; these are what Consumer Reports deems as “highly meaningful labels”:

Animal Welfare Approved: The Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards require humane treatment from birth to slaughter, which includes requirements for continuous access to pasture and prohibits feedlots.

Animal Welfare Approved Grassfed: Producers have to meet all of the requirements for Animal Welfare Approved (described above). In addition, the Animal Welfare Approved Grassfed label means that ruminants raised for meat were given a 100 percent grass- and forage-based diet, with the exception of milk prior to weaning. Animals were not fed grain.
Demeter Biodynamic: Demeter Biodynamic farms are managed as a self-reliant and self-sustaining biological entity. Biodynamic standards recognize the important role that animals play on a farm by providing soil fertility. Cattle must have outdoor access year-round and access to pasture during the grazing months, when the majority of their feed must be fresh green material, such as grazing pastures. At least half of the animals’ feed must be obtained from the farm itself.
GAP Step 5-5+: GAP Step 5 and 5+ are the highest steps in the Global Animal Partnership’s animal-welfare rating program. Feedlots are prohibited, and cattle live on pasture their entire lives, although supplementing their diet with grain while the cattle are on pasture is permitted. Cattle cannot be given growth hormones, organophosphate pesticides, and antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention.
PCO Certified 100% Grassfed: The label means beef is both certified organic and 100 percent grass-fed, with no grain in the diet. Since the label requires organic certification, the animals are not treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, or synthetic pesticides.






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