Love your cow and eat it, too
Animal-eating guilt got you down? Certified Humane labels tell you that at least your dinner had a good life.
For conscientious consumers who care about what they eat and where it came from, eating animal products can be something of a dilemma. While place-of-origin labels and the certified-organic stamp make it easier to purchase genuinely organic, minimally processed produce, voting for your food values with your wallet is often harder when it comes to meat and dairy products.
For instance, just because an egg carton claims the eggs are from “free range” hens doesn’t necessarily mean those hens are being fed the best food—or even that they’re ranging very far or for very long. And while the labels “natural” or “organic” on meat products may tell you that cattle haven’t been filled with antibiotics and growth hormones, they don’t ensure animals were well-treated during their lives or that they were slaughtered as humanely as possible.
Enter the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label, administered by the nonprofit Humane Farm Animal Care. HFAC’s stamp of approval assures the public that it is purchasing products that meet rigorous standards. HFAC requires producers to, among other things, “[allow] animals to engage in their natural behaviors; [raise] animals with sufficient space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress; [and make] sure they have ample fresh water and a healthy diet without added antibiotics or hormones.”
The Certified Humane label appears on meats, eggs, milk and other dairy products. To earn and retain the right to label their goods Certified Humane, producers must have their facilities, records and handling methods meticulously examined once a year by HFAC’s independently contracted inspectors. Every animal is tracked throughout its life to ensure that every stage of its treatment—up to and including slaughter—complies with HFAC’s standards.
According to Holly Bridges, co-founder of the organization and its former outreach director, HFAC, “was founded to improve the lives of farm animals [by having] an internationally renowned scientific community say, as a committee, ‘These are the standards—if you can’t meet them, your production is not humane.'”
The ultimate goal is to set the bar higher for the treatment of all food animals. Bridges points out that it can take a long time to create change by lobbying for new government policies. But by working with farmers and ranchers to develop a market for high quality, humane goods and by creating a certification process with real muscle, HFAC has created a sound business reason for producers to comply with its high standards.
“Producers have to feel that there’s a strong market for their responsibly raised product because it’s highly labor intensive to track [livestock] from birth through slaughter,” says Bridges. Clearly, some do. In 2003, Certified Humane had only five producers on their list. Today their Web site lists over 60.
If you’re ready to make the switch to humane animal products, the HFAC Web site, www.certifiedhumane.com, carries a list of stores that carry the Certified Humane Label. In the Reno area, that list includes Raley’s, Wild Oats and Smith’s grocery stores.