For many, animal activism starts and ends at the supermarket. But even at the tried and true butchers’ counter, you can’t believe everything you read.
It’s becoming commonplace to see labels on meat products that convey some sort of ethical standard. Phrases like “humanely raised” or “commitment to animal welfare” may catch the eyes of consumers who are concerned about the way farmed animals are treated.
But, are they based in reality?
A report from the anti-factory farming group Farm Forward shows that companies use “humanewashing” to deceive consumers who care about animal rights, leading them to believe animals were raised according to their expectations of humane treatment even when they were not. They play on the familiarity of terms like “all natural” and “free-range” by using certification schemes to formalize their own empty standards.
“Welfare certifications are designed, ostensibly, to help consumers identify animal products consistent with their ethical concerns,” reads the report. “But many are intentionally deceptive, and all are problematic. They generally function to confuse consumers, lock truly high-welfare animal farmers out of important markets, and thwart the kinds of reforms necessary to phase out industrialized farming.”
Whether used as marketing tools or a signal of real improvements to alleviate animal suffering, these food certifications at best confuse consumers, and detract from efforts to change factory farming.
“What we have concluded is that despite our best efforts . . . these certifications, like the industry label claims and unregulated claims before them, are now doing more to deceive and mislead consumers and are ultimately serving as a hindrance to progress on factory farming issues rather than a step in a better direction,” said Andrew deCoriolis, Farm Forward’s executive director.
As Civil Eats reports, Whole Foods has come under fire for using GAP’s “Animal Welfare Certified” logos on food packages. The same label is applied to chicken products from intentionally organic operations that allow birds to range free, as well as farms where animals spend their entire lives caged indoors. It was this discrepancy that drove GAP board founder and CEO Aaron Gross to publicly stepped down “in protest” of the way the certifying group’s mission had changed.
Cassandra White of Clarkston, GA, asked Kroger, the largest grocer in the United States, to justify their “raised in a humane environment” labels on packages of Simple Truth Natural Chicken. The supermarket told her “[The chickens] live on the floor of a barn or poultry house.”
White gathered thousands of signatures in a petition to convince Kroger to lose the labeling, which it eventually did, though admitted no wrongdoing.
“When I go to the grocery store, I read the labels carefully because I want to know that what I am buying to feed my family is something I can trust,” White told Food Safety News.
Rather than fight to prove their chicken coops offered any sense of “humane” comfort, Kroger and Perdue, the third-largest chicken company in the country, both settled class-action lawsuits resulting in agreements to stop describing the treatment of chickens are raised for Perdue’s Harvestland and Kroger’s Simple Truth brands as “humane.”
Farm Forward contends that companies use humanewashing “to deceive consumers who care about animal rights, leading them to believe animals were raised according to their expectations of humane treatment even when they were not. And since some consumers have become savvy to unregulated labeling terms like “all natural” and “free-range,” organizations and industry are increasingly using certification schemes to formalize their standards.”
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, “When companies misrepresent the way they raise and treat animals, it deprives consumers of the ability to drive the marketplace through informed purchasing decisions, and disadvantages competitors of more humanely produced food. False advertising allows “Big Ag” to maintain business as usual, preying on conscientious consumers with lies meant to conceal the factory farming origins of their meat, dairy, and eggs. This keeps more animals suffering in these facilities to meet the fraudulently inflated consumer demand.”
Statements like “Certified Humane,” “Animal Welfare Approved,” “Cage Free,” “Free Range,” or “USDA Process Verified” are unregulated and unenforced, with no meaningful content or oversight and welfare standards that do not improve far beyond what is expected as a bare minimum. The animals that are paying the real price for these marketing strategies, while consumers fool themselves into buying a clean conscience.
Join others in telling the USDA that humanewashing must go. Click below to make a difference.
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