Humane Facts: Labels & Loopholes

Humane Facts: Labels & Loopholes

farming size & methods

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Food producers are capitalizing on the public’s concern for animal welfare by changing some of their most egregious practices or implying that they have changed.

This section explains what practices some of the most popular humane and similar labels include, and some of the standard operating abuses that they still permit.

It’s important to note that only organic labels are regulated. None of the other labels are created or enforced by the government. Some are industry created and are intentionally misleading to increase profits.

Also, the overwhelming majority (>98%) of meat, dairy and eggs are explicitly factory farmed without even the pretense of improved conditions.


  • No synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizer, hormones, or antibiotics (except special circumstances)
  • No GMOs or irradiation
  • Feed must be organic
  • Only government label

Hidden Abuses

  • Newborn male chicks of egg-laying hens are not cost-effective or protected by label requirements. They are ground alive (macerated), thrown in dumpsters to suffocate on top of each other, or otherwise disposed of.
  • Chickens raised for meat may be kept in continual lighting, with no rest and excessive eating. This results in accelerated growth rates and skeletal problems.
  • Dairy cows may be tied to stalls so they cannot move freely.
  • Some large organic dairies have been allowed to house cows without access to pasture.

Cage-Free & Free-Range

  • "Free range" chicken facilityMostly synonymous, but technically, animals labeled free-range have some access to the outdoors.

Hidden Abuses

  • These labels hold no assurance that the animals are treated humanely.
  • There are no limits on flock size or density.
  • Access to the outdoors may be severely restricted and poorly designed. It may be a small dirt lot that is difficult for chickens to access and does not provide space for them to engage in their instinctive behaviors such as pecking for food and dust-bathing.
  • Male chicks of egg-laying hens have no protection under this label and are therefore disposed of, commonly by suffocation or maceration.


  • Applies to cows and other ruminant animals.
  • Cattle are fed grass diets as opposed to corn and soy.
  • Provides access to the outdoors and ability to engage in grazing.

Hidden Abuses

  • Grass-fed ruminants produce three times more greenhouse gas emissions than grain-fed.
  • Surgical procedures without pain medicine are permitted.
  • Label may include a fine print regarding “grain-finished” which means the cattle may still spend time in a feedlot.
  • Dairy cows are continually re-impregnated with their calves are taken away after birth for either for veal or dairy.


  • Deceptive because the USDA has already banned the use of hormones for birds and pigs.

Hidden Abuses

  • Hormones are not regulated in non-ruminant animals.
  • Offers no reduction in animal suffering.

Humane Certifications

  • There are a wide variety of humane (or similar) certifications. These may be government, third-party, nonprofit, or the industry’s self-certification. Be especially wary of industry self-certifications and industry “standards.”
  • These labels sometimes indicate a reduction of severe over-crowding and confinement such as cramped cages, gestation crates, or veal crates.
  • Many prohibit the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics.

Hidden Abuses

  • Male chicks of egg-laying hens may be macerated or thrown away.
  • The stocking densities may not be monitored to protect from extreme over-crowding.
  • May not require outdoor access for chickens or pigs.
  • Debeaking of chickens and tail amputation of pigs are permitted without pain medication.