Kara Shannon is the Manager of the Farm Animal Welfare program at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). She holds a J.D. from Vermont Law School and is passionate about creating a more sustainable, humane and equitable food system.
Farm animal welfare is at the top of consumers' shopping lists. A 2016 ASPCA survey found that 77 percent of consumers are concerned about the welfare of farm animals and 74 percent are paying more attention to labels that pertain to how an animal was raised than they were just five years ago. Unfortunately, there are no federal laws governing how animals are treated on farms, and companies are allowed to make misleading and unregulated claims like "natural" and "thoughtfully raised," leaving welfare-conscious consumers totally lost. This lack of transparency in industrial animal agriculture ultimately puts higher-welfare farmers at a disadvantage as they struggle to stand out in a crowded market.
As part of the ASPCA's commitment to creating a more humane and transparent farming system, we partnered with Vermont Law School's Center for Agriculture and Food Systems to create a unique new tool for those farmers seeking to distinguish themselves: the Farm Animal Welfare Certification Guide. The guide is designed to help farmers raising animals - as well as food companies, restaurant owners and chefs sourcing animal products - understand the three most meaningful welfare certification programs: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane® and Global Animal Partnership .
These programs are considering meaningful for a few reasons: First, their standards represent a range of higher-welfare ways to raise farm animals, but all three prohibit the cruelest practices while providing animals with what they need to carry out their natural behaviors. Second, the standards of all three programs are transparent, publicly available and understandable. Finally, all three programs regularly conduct on-farm audits, require 100 percent compliance with standards and have systems in place to address any non-compliance.
The Farm Animal Welfare Certification Guide provides detailed comparisons of the standards and procedures required by each program, organized into easily-digestible charts. In addition, each certification program has its own "in-depth" section, offering a deep-dive into the program history, requirements, cost and available technical and marketing support. Another key feature of the guide is the six candid farmer case studies, which offer a look at the experiences of welfare-certified farmers from across the country. Finally, the guide identifies different private, federal and state funding opportunities available to farmers who are investing in animal welfare.
Welfare certification is a triple-win for farmers, farm animals and consumers. Farmers win because they gain access to a rapidly growing and often more lucrative market for more humanely raised animal products. Just in the past few months we've seen major companies - like Compass Group, Starbucks and Panera - commit to sourcing from welfare-certified producers. Farm animals win because they are provided with a higher quality of life, able to carry out their natural behaviors and free from the cruel confinement found on factory farms. Finally, consumers win because they can easily identify welfare-certified products, allowing them to buy products that align with their beliefs and compassion for farm animals.
As we move into 2017, we face great uncertainty around the future of the federal government's involvement in agriculture. In the absence of government action, individual consumers and the larger market have the ability to decide whether farm animals suffer or are treated more humanely. Welfare certifications have a huge role to play in creating a more humane, transparent farming system and the ASPCA is proud to offer the Farm Animal Welfare Certification Guide as a resource for farmers and others in the food industry who share our commitment to improving the lives of farm animals.