Quantcast
Food

94% of Americans Agree Animals Raised for Food Should Be Treated Cruelty Free

By Daisy Freund

Wandering the meat and dairy aisles of most grocery stores is a bit like sitting down to read a children's storybook. Gleaming red barns jut out of green rolling hills. Cartoon cows and chickens graze in the shade of a tree or eat feed from the hand of a farmer. Add a few well-placed words like "all-natural" or "farm fresh" to this bucolic scene and the average harried grocery shopper is probably going to buy into this pleasant story of animals living the good life.

It's a story we want to believe. Ninety-four percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty. But most farm animals' lives are about as far from the scenes on those packages as one can imagine.

Here's the real story: In 1955, the U.S. raised about 100 million cattle, pigs and birds for food. Through industrialization of our farming system we now raise more than nine billion. Efficient? Yes. Humane? Not even close. Most of the animals raised on modern industrial farms are either confined in cages, crates, pens or on the floors of giant warehouses. They are packed cheek to jowl, so tightly they cannot engage in basic, natural behaviors like perching, dust bathing or even stretching their limbs. They defecate where they live and sleep, filling the air with ammonia that burns and infects their skin, eyes and respiratory systems. Because these conditions are breeding grounds for the spread of diseases, industry has taken to routinely dosing animals with preventive antibiotics, putting human health at risk as antibiotic resistant diseases spread among humans.

Through investigations and educational efforts, there's a growing awareness that all is not as idyllic on the farm as it seems on the packages. More and more consumers are keeping the images they've seen of suffering farm animals in mind as they shop. A recent national survey, commissioned by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), found that 74 percent of consumers are paying more attention to the labels that indicate how farm animals were treated than they were just five years ago.

Unfortunately, these labels are often confusing and misleading and don't always provide much guidance. As a result, there are widespread misconceptions about what common labels actually mean for animal welfare. For example, 65 percent of consumers surveyed believe the term "free-range" ensures that the animal spent most of its time in a pasture. But in reality, there is no legal definition of "free-range" for pork, beef or dairy products. On poultry products, birds must have access to the outdoors, but the size, duration and quality of that outdoor experience is not defined. More than two thirds of those surveyed think that claims like "natural," "hormone-free" and "humane" guarantee better animal welfare, when they actually require minimal improvements, if any.

Nearly half of all consumers also assume that when they pick up a carton of eggs, an independent inspector verified the health and welfare of the chickens who laid them. Sadly, they couldn't be more mistaken. Most farms are never visited by anyone except employees working for companies that are primarily looking out for the bottom line, not animals' welfare. The consequences of this lack of oversight have been dire for farm animals and sparked concern in three quarters of survey respondents.

It might seem overwhelming at times, but as consumers, we have the power to demand better conditions for farm animals and I've seen for myself that better conditions are possible. I've visited farms across this country that are raising animals in ways that better respect their needs and natures. Like the pasture-based farm in upstate New York where mother pigs are raised in groups and have an environment that lets them fulfill their basic maternal instinct to build a nest of twigs and soft vegetation before they have their piglets. Or even the large-scale egg farm in Indiana where hens popped in and out of their long house to dust bathe in the shade. When I visited, they ran toward the farmer, showing curiosity and comfort, rather than the fear and stress seen in battery caged facilities. These are meaningful differences from conventional facilities.

So how can a concerned consumer tell if the eggs, meat or dairy they are about to buy came from a farm that genuinely gave animals better lives or if they are just being tricked by claims that sound great but mean nothing? Welfare certifications exist that take the guessing and hoping out of shopping and actually represent better animal welfare: specifically, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership (Steps 2 and above).

While these certifications represent a spectrum of ways to raise animals, from pasture-based farming to enriched indoor environments, all employ independent auditing systems to check on farms and require 100 percent compliance with standards that account for animals' physical, natural and emotional needs. Crafted by welfare specialists, these standards ban cages, crates and extreme confinement and set definitions for adequate space, indoors and outdoors. They require enrichments like hay bales and perches that allow natural behaviors and have standards guiding air and light quality to support animals' health. They also require responsible use of antibiotics and address animals' lives on farm, in transport and at slaughter.

Certified products might cost a little more, but consumers have overwhelmingly stated they are willing to pay more for better welfare. Sixty-seven percent of consumers stated that they would purchase meat, eggs and dairy products with trustworthy welfare certifications even when it means a higher price. In addition, 75 percent of consumers would like stores to carry a greater variety of welfare-certified meat, eggs and dairy. Once demand grows, supply follows along and prices will level off.

With a little knowledge of the labels to look for, consumers who purchase animal products can have a radical impact on the farming industry. That means ignoring the cartoonish marketing and looking instead for those welfare certifications—and opting for more plant-based alternatives—whenever we can. It means asking store managers and restaurants to carry more of these better products. Each purchase, each request, each inquiry adds up. Together, we can create a less cruel, less confusing and more compassionate farming system based on facts—not fiction.

Take the pledge to Shop With Your Heart. If you purchase meat, eggs or dairy, you have more power than you know. By buying welfare-certified animal products or more plant-based products, you send a strong message to food companies that you care about the treatment of farm animals.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
350 .org / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Taking Your First Steps Into Local Climate Action

Yes, yes—it can feel daunting. The climate crisis is more urgent than it's ever been. Some days we feel like we're making good progress, when we hear of countries powered by 100 percent renewable energy or a big commitment to take on fossil fuel corporations from a city like New York. But other days, it's a heavy burden knowing there's so much more that needs to be done to unseat the fossil fuel industry and move to a just, Fossil Free, renewably-powered world.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From

It started with a call from actress and animal rights activist Natalie Portman to author Jonathan Safran Foer. The latter had recently taken a break from novel-writing to publish 2009's New York Times best-selling treatise Eating Animals—an in-depth discussion of what it means to eat animals in an industrialized world, with all attendant environmental and ethical concerns. The two planned a meeting in Foer's Brooklyn backyard, and also invited documentary director Christopher Dillon Quinn (God Grew Tired of Us) over. The idea was to figure out how to turn Foer's sprawling, memoiristic book into a documentary that would ignite mainstream conversations around our food systems.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

A Ghanaian Chef Feeding His Country and Combating Food Waste

Ghanaian chef Elijah Amoo Addo is on a mission to feed his nation on the excesses the food industry creates. Since 2012, he has been collecting unwanted stock or food nearing its use-by date from suppliers, farmers and restaurants in Ghana to redistribute to orphanages, hospitals, schools and vulnerable communities through his not-for-profit organization Food for All Africa. They provide meals through a Share Your Breakfast program in addition to donating stock to be used later. The organization supports and encourages communities to farm and works with stakeholders within Ghana's food industry on ways to combat waste.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Tucuxi Amazon river dolphins (Sotalia fluviatilis). Projeto Boto

Hunting, Fishing Cause Dramatic Decline in Amazon River Dolphins

By Claire Asher

Populations of two species of river dolphin in the Amazon are halving every decade, according to the results of a twenty-two year survey.

The Amazon rainforest is home to the Amazon river dolphin, or Boto (Inia geoffrensis) and the Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis). But the results of a long-term study published in PLoS ONE show that both of these once abundant aquatic mammals are now in rapid decline in the Brazilian Amazon, likely due to hunting and fishing.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy

'Historic First': Nebraska Farmers Return Land to Ponca Tribe in Effort to Block Keystone XL

By Jessica Corbett

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government's long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

Keep reading... Show less
Business

Sustainable Fashion Innovator Makes Fiber From Pineapple Leaves

In 1960, 97 percent of the fibers used in clothing came from natural materials. Today that number has fallen to 35 percent. But sustainable fashion veteran Isaac Nichelson wants to reverse that trend.

His company, Circular Systems S.P.C. (Social Purpose Corp.), has developed an innovative technology for turning food waste into thread, according to a Fast Company profile published Friday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment on April 26. EPA / YouTube

Chair of Senate Environment Panel to Call Scott Pruitt to Testify on Scandals

The Republican chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to call the agency's embattled chief Scott Pruitt to testify, specifically in response to multiple scandals and investigations surrounding the administrator.

Through a spokesperson, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., informed Reuters of his decision to compel Pruitt to come before the Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about his alleged abuse of his office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Pexels

Senate’s Farm Bill Moves Forward—But What Is It, Anyway?

By Shannan Lenke Stoll

The Senate Agriculture Committee just passed its version of a farm bill in a 20-1 vote Thursday. It's one more step in what has been a delayed journey to pass a 2018–2022 bill before the current one expires in September.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!