Andrew Gunther is Program Director at Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), a nonprofit program that audits and certifies family farmers raising their animals under the highest welfare standards.
The AWA standards have been rated “most stringent” by the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Gunther claims many of the terms such as “All Natural” and “Naturally Raised”, on meat, milk and egg product packaging are fraudulent, and used to shroud the same billion-dollar corporate owned factory farming systems that have been used for decades.
Although both terms suggest livestock have a “natural” life, with access to pasture, the term “All Natural” has nothing to do with how an animal was raised and means only that the product contains no artificial ingredients or added colors.
Labels like “all natural,” “cage free” and “organic,” bear no resemblance to how the animals are raised.
Gunther points out that as consumer interest in how our food is produced has increased, so too has the use of subtle imagery of happy livestock grazing in lush pastures on food packaging.
If food manufacturers used actual images from their farming systems, standard egg cartons would display endless rows of caged hens, all with their beaks trimmed to prevent them pecking each other.
“Pork products would display images of pigs packed indoors in concrete-floored pens, the sows confined in gestation crates,” says Gunther.
And he adds most of the beef products would have to show the thousands — sometimes tens of thousands — of cattle crammed together on each of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
CAFO’s supply 90% of all U.S. beef, where they have no access to pasture and are fed an unhealthy diet of corn and grain and antibiotic growth promoters.
“All Natural” ground beef in stores comes from cattle who spent their last three to six months on a dirt-yard CAFO.
Although manufacturers who use the “Naturally Raised” label must raise livestock without growth promotants and animal byproducts, the animals are usually confined in feedlots or cages.
And there are no independent checks by federal officials to make sure the rules are being followed.
“Cage free” eggs may come from hens raised without cages, but they almost all spend their lives indoors in vast barns or warehouses with thousands of other hens in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions, and receive routine doses of antibiotics.
Gunther notes that in 2010, the Cornucopia Institute investigated organic egg production and found numerous instances across the U.S. where industrial-scale operations were managing thousands of hens in single houses without offering adequate access to the outdoors — yet they could legally sell their eggs as organic.
“These operations make a mockery of the organic principles and threaten the livelihoods of countless real organic poultry farmers who are farming to the high standards consumers rightly expect.”
And even with products carrying the American Humane Certified label, the welfare certification supports caged production for chickens and doesn’t require pasture access for any farmed species.
Hardly what most people would consider “humane” practice, Gunther says.
To combat this label deception, Animal Welfare Approved has published “Food Labeling for Dummies,” a free 16-page guide designed to help decipher the most common terms and claims found on food packaging, and also to determine whether they have been independently verified.
You can download a free copy here or call (800) 373-8806.
January 7th, 2013