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Humane Choices

Want to make a difference? Put your money where your mouth is—literally. The food choices you make in the grocery store have a significant impact on the welfare of farm animals across the country. Your purchases let retailers and producers know that consumers are interested in humanely raised food products. If the products are selling, they will continue to produce and stock them in your store.

FACT is making it easier for restaurant goers to find humane choices when eating out.  Look for “The Humane Choice” at www.fact.yelp.com.  For each restaurant we review, we research the ingredients used – where they come from and how the farms treat their animals. We then rate the restaurants on a scale of one to five, based on their humane purchasing practices.  Right now our reviews are limited to Chicago but we hope to branch out to restaurants in other areas in the future.  We will continue to add restaurant reviews and update past reviews throughout the year so please be sure to check back often. To become a more informed consumer, check out our Chicago Humane Choices Guide and our Guide to Egg Labels. 

Unfortunately for the well-meaning shopper, food labels can often be confusing and misleading. The following is a guide to help you make the best food choices possible.

Cage-Free:  Cage-free eggs are produced by hens that live in barns or buildings, moving around on the floor, not in battery cages. These birds do have freedom of movement and the ability to engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting, and spreading their wings. Because the cage-free label is not monitored or regulated by the federal government, cage free facilities vary greatly in terms of flooring, lighting, airflow, nesting facilities and stocking density.

Free-Range:  “Free-range” or “free-roaming” on a label implies that the bird had unrestricted access to the outside world.  In reality, the term only guarantees that the bird has an opportunity to go outdoors each day, with no requirement that it actually gets there. The use of the term “free-range” is only defined by the USDA for chickens that are raised for meat, not those that lay eggs, and thus does not tell the consumer very much about how the hens are raised.  Most eggs labeled as “free-roaming” are in fact cage free, meaning the hens are on the floor, not in battery cages. 

Organic - Food certified as organic can often be a good choice when choosing meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Organic regulations prohibit the use of hormones and antibiotics. The National Organic Program (NOP) standards, which were fully implemented in October 2002, include some provisions for the humane treatment of animals, although they are fairly vague. In addition, animal by-products are prohibited in feeds for organically raised animals. Certified organic products carry the USDA's Organic seal.

Products labeled as organic are inspected annually by a government-approved certification agency. The certifier inspects the farm and where the food is raised and reviews all the necessary documentation to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

In the case of organic eggs, the hens are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. The birds are uncaged inside barns or houses, and are required to have outdoor access (although there have been concerns about lax enforcement, with some large-scale producers not providing birds meaningful access to the outdoors). Forced molting through starvation is permitted. 

Natural:  USDA has defined the term “natural” for meat and poultry as “a product containing no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed.” Because shell eggs are not processed (except for cleaning and grading) and do not contain artificial ingredients, they would all be considered “natural.” Therefore, when applied to eggs, the term “natural” is meaningless and has no relevance to animal welfare. In general, this label is not meaningful for meat, poultry, or eggs.

No Antibiotics or No Hormones - Products labeled as "No Antibiotics Used or Added" can be a good choice. However, just because a food is antibiotic free, it doesn’t guarantee that the animals were raised humanely, were fed healthy food, were able to exercise and express natural behaviors, or spent time outside.

Packages of chicken sold in supermarkets commonly sport a claim that reads “no added hormones.” While customers might take this to mean that the birds were raised humanely, in reality hormones are not permitted in chicken production by law. Using hormones with chickens is illegal and no chicken product sold in the U.S. contains them. Therefore, a "no added hormones" claim on chicken is unnecessary and misleading. 

Perdue “Humanely Raised” or “Raised Cage Free”:  One of the largest producers of poultry in the country, has recently started to include the claims “raised cage free” and “humanely raised” on packages of some its chicken meat. It is FACT’s opinion that these claims are misleading to consumers who expect strong animal welfare standards. To begin with, unlike egg laying hens, chickens raised for meat are not raised in cages. Confinement in cages causes bruising to the muscle, making it unappealing to purchasers. FACT believes that Perdue’s “raised cage free” claim may give consumers the wrong impression that these birds were treated differently than birds on other large-scale, conventional operations. Perdue also claims that the birds were “humanely raised” in compliance with the company’s welfare standards. While Perdue states that their standards exceed the National Chicken Council’s (NCC) animal welfare guidelines, Purdue’s standards are not publicly available to consumers.

UEP Certified (United Egg Producers) “Produced in Compliance with United Egg Producers’  Animal Husbandry Guidelines”:  Many cartons of eggs found in the supermarket carry the United Egg Producers Certified logo along with the statement “Produced in Compliance with United Egg Producers’ Animal Husbandry Guidelines.” In FACT’s opinion, this label may be misleading to consumers if they expect strong animal welfare standards. UEP Certified guidelines claim to provide a best practice approach to egg production, but they do not prohibit battery cages, beak-trimming or forced-molting. FACT’s position is that customers concerned about animal welfare should seek out egg cartons with additional labels such as Certified Organic, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, and Free-Range.


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