If you took a guess, would you say that caged chickens in the egg industry are never able to: A) Spread their wings; B) Walk around; C) Lay eggs in a nest; or D) All of the above.
The answer, says the Humane Society of the United States, is D. More than 90 percent of nations egg-laying hens live in so-called "battery cages" and never touch the ground or go outdoors. Meanwhile, HSUS says, six million breeding female pigs and a million calves raised for veal spend practically their whole lives in crates too small for the animals to turn around. In short, the mental picture of a bucolic farm with rolling hills dotted with happy cows is passé. It doesnt apply to todays industrialized farms.
Wouldn't it be great if farm animals were raised compassionately? Well, some people are way ahead of you on that. Whole Foods Markets has decided to come up with standards to create a line of meats bearing an "animal compassionate" label, meaning farmers raised the animals humanely. It's not the first animal-welfare label out there. There's also the "certified humane" label administered by Humane Farm Animal Care, and the "free farmed" label overseen by the American Humane Association. And the Animal Welfare Institute issues the label "Animal Welfare Approved."
All aim for humane lives for farm animals, though each program is different. Examples: The New York Times pointed out that the Animal Welfare Institute and the free farmed label let pigs have nose rings to prevent them from tearing up the ground when they root around, but the other programs forbid rings. At AnimalWelfareApproved.org, the Animal Welfare Institute posts a comparison chart showing how its the most favorable program.
The nonprofit watchdog group Consumers Union so far has examined only the "certified humane" label, which it deemed a "highly meaningful label that indicates that meat, dairy and egg products came from animals that were treated humanely," according to its eco-oriented web site, Eco-labels.org. The "certified humane" label has several requirements. Among examples: Livestock must have access to clean and sufficient food and water; they must have sufficient room to move naturally; and their environment must not endanger their health.
In the end, the vast majority of livestock don't fall under any of these humane-labeling programs, and you may achieve your goal of buying humanely raised meats via other routes -- by buying from farmers markets or small local farms. Another way: Quiz local co-ops about what they know about how their meats were produced.
For more info:
To find out where to buy "Certified Humane" foods, go to CertifiedHumane.com. To find Animal Welfare-approved foods, go to www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org. To find Free Farmed producers, go to AmericanHumane.org.
Check out the film or book "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser for an interesting examination of the fast-food industry. To download the first chapter of Michael Pollans worthwhile book "The Omnivores Dilemma," go to www.michaelpollan.com.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.