"Free-range"? "Cage-free"? Be Free…from Label Confusion!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 3:00pm
Cows on a factory farm

It can be hard to cut through the clever marketing and buzzwords on food packaging and get down to the truth. For example, most shoppers assume that an “organic” label on meat, eggs or dairy means that the farm animals used lived in a nice setting, with access to the outdoors and fresh air throughout the day. But that’s not required by the USDA, which sets the organic standards, so it’s not necessarily true.

Unfortunately, loopholes and unclear definitions are common when it comes to labels and claims on animal-derived products. On the other hand, there are animal welfare labeling programs that set and enforce meaningful standards for farm animals—some through independent, third-party auditors. The ASPCA’s new online and downloadable label guide separates fact from fiction so you can make educated choices and vote with your wallet for better farm animal welfare.

Always on the run? Download our food label pocket guide for on-the-go reference.

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stephanie nyc

Thank you for reminding people what all those terms really mean. They can be very misleading. Is it possible to re-post the list separately - so that it is in large print. Some people won't take the time to click on it and enlarge it. I would hate to see this information not be seen by as many people as possible. Thank you for all the wonderful work you do!


I am a strict vegan. However, this is good for people who are vegetarian. It's very hard for them to find cruelty free dairy.


There is a lot of different symbols for each or most of these classes. I found them once in a Vegetarian magazine. It would be helpful to have them listed here too. For many, it is easier to remember a symbol or two and buy products with that symbol only. Unfortunately, it is hard to buy properly labeled meat. If anyone knows humane meat places around Chicago, please let me know.


Sadly there's no such thing as humane meat! ANY meat involves the confinement, torture and death of a living sentient being. If you really want to feel better about not contributing to the suffering of innocent creatures, the only way is to go vegan. Your body and soul will thank you!


Thank you for the clarification of these terms. I searched google for humanely raised farm animal products in my area and only found 2 stores, and that was for sausage. In my town farmer's market, I can buy humanely raised beef and pork from a family farm. I don't eat beef or pork, but that is an option. Also, I will talk with my grocerers and ask them to let their customers know where their meat comes from. It is a start. By-the-way, try the meatless products. They are very good and be substiuted for regular meat in recipes.

Tina Geronimi

Couldn't get both pages to print


I am a strict vegetarian soon to become vegan. I love all the meatless burgers bacon etc. A lot of these are all vegan that my husband and I eat. The world will hopefully change so very soon. If you would not eat your cat or dog why eat another animal. They are living feeling beings just like you and I.


I wish humane organizations would help evaluate the major providers of eggs, milk, yogurt etc. regarding the nature of their operations. I am a vegetarian because I don't believe there is a humane way to commercially raise, transport and slaughter animals.But I do buy "cage free" ostensibly from "free roaming" chickens, and a few dairy products (cheese, yogurt), but have little success in determining which companies, if any, actually ensure humane care for the dairy cows and chickens within their control. I eschew most dairy - choosing Almond "milk" instead - because dairy cows are inherently abused through forced births, the tearing of days old calves from their mothers to be raised for veal or slaughtered, etc. The dairy cows are rewarded for their pain and suffering by being sent to slaughter when they are too worn out to provide the industry's unnatural standards of milk. It is especially ironic that the overweight, unhealthy hordes one sees cramming their shopping carts with animal products give no thought whatsoever to the suffering implicit in those cellophane wrapped body parts.