Independence Day is tomorrow and freedom is in the air. The word “free” is all over our food in the form of labels that can be confusing and sometimes misleading when it comes to the welfare of the animals. Below we explain three labels you may see in the supermarket and what they really mean for animals.
Cage-Free Cage-free means just that: no cage. Chickens raised for meat live mostly in sheds on the ground, not in cages, so it’s a fairly meaningless label on meat packages. That said, over 90% of the 280 million egg-laying hens in this country live crammed into wire cages with less space to move than a sheet of paper. Cage-free eggs come from chickens who are not subjected to this confinement and can engage in some important chicken behaviors, like laying eggs in nests, dust bathing, and spreading their wings. This is a significant improvement. But there is no real space or outdoor requirement with the cage-free label, so if the farm does the bare minimum, these birds can still live in overcrowded, poor conditions.
Free Range People may think of green pastures when they hear the term “free-range,” but unfortunately that’s rarely the case. The term only has regulated meaning when applied to chickens raised for meat, not to eggs or to any other animals. Ninety-nine percent of the nine billion chickens raised for meat in this country live in huge, barren sheds by the thousands crowded on top of each other and their own waste. To qualify as “free-range,” chickens need only have access to the outdoors for an unspecified amount of time, and that does not have to be pasture, it can be a small concrete enclosure.
Hormone-Free The term “hormone-free” is not approved by the USDA on any meat products. In fact, the USDA actually prohibits the use of hormones on pigs or chickens, so all pork and poultry products that make claims about hormones are just following the law. In the case of beef and dairy cattle, federal regulations do permit the use of hormones like recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST), a synthetic growth hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. The labels “raised without hormones,” “no hormones administered,” and “not treated with rBGH” mean the animals were not exposed to hormones during their lives, but certainly does not indicate a higher level of animal welfare.
Kathy M. shared the following story with us about meeting and adopting a lively cat named Harmony at the ASPCA Adoption Center in Manhattan, and how Harmony has expressed her mischievous personality each and every day since.
In March 2011, I took a trip to the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City to adopt a cat. I had lost my beloved kitty, Oliver, about a month earlier, and I was looking for another kitty companion to love. My friend Michelle, who had also loved Oliver, accompanied me to the Adoption Center.
Michelle spotted Harmony before I did and pointed her out to me. I looked and saw a beautiful black and brown female tabby with lively, alert eyes. A volunteer showed us other cats as well, but when we saw a group of people looking at Harmony, Michelle and I both had an "Uh oh!" moment. I decided nobody else was going to have MY cat!
I had another slight "Uh oh!" moment when the front desk volunteers told me that Harmony had aggressive play habits. She was only eight months old, smack in the middle of feline adolescence, and teenage cats can be as obnoxious as teenage humans. By that time, I was hooked—I had fallen in love with Harmony and was going to take her home, no matter what.
The volunteers did not exaggerate. Life with Harmony has been an adventure. She is very smart, and eager to find some creative ways to make mischief.
As she grew older, her personality has mellowed. It must have helped to know she’s in a place where she is loved and appreciated for the lively, intelligent little being that she is.
Harmony is smart, very funny and full of personality and love. I'm so happy to have her in my life, and I think she feels the same way about me.
In the wake of important victories for horses, we are dismayed to learn that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today approved an application for horse slaughter inspections at Valley Meat Company LLC in Roswell, New Mexico, and will issue horse slaughter permits in Missouri and Iowa on Monday.
The inherent cruelty of horse slaughter is reason enough for our government to prevent this practice, but the dangers to consumers, the clear public opposition to slaughtering our horses for foreign diners, and the harm we know this will cause our communities make this a reckless and hazardous move by the USDA.
These plants are now slated to be the first facilities in the U.S. to slaughter our horses for human consumption since 2007, when the few remaining plants closed after states took action to shutter them and Congress voted to eliminate funding for horse meat inspections. The two Agriculture Appropriations bills that will eliminate the possibility of horse slaughter in the U.S. are expected to be voted on by the full House and Senate in July—today’s announcement is a serious federal bureaucratic misstep that defies common sense.
“Moving ahead with the costly proposition of funding horse slaughter inspections is wasteful, cruel and reckless,” says Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations. “Recent polling shows that 70% of New Mexicans, 70% of Missourians and 71% of Iowans, along with the overwhelming majority of Americans, oppose the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption. Given the recent outrage over horse meat entering the food supply in Europe, this decision is irresponsible. The USDA is knowingly diverting tax dollars from programs that protect American consumers to programs that jeopardize them. It is time for Congress to take action to prevent American horses from suffering this terrible fate and stop horse slaughter in the U.S. once and for all.”
Now that school’s out for summer, why not spend a bit of extra time with your pooch? By working with your dog to teach her new tricks or by providing her with some TLC, you’ll strengthen the bond between you two. Summer is the perfect time to take your dog on a hike, or to bring her along on your next road trip.
As temperatures rise, it’s a good idea to brush up on hot weather safety tips. And, for some additional guidance, Houlton Institute is launching its Fundamentals of Dog Care course on July 15, developed in collaboration with ASPCA experts. The first online course of its kind, which will run for six weeks, is designed to provide pet parents with knowledge and competencies necessary to navigate the responsibilities of caring and creating a proper environment for a dog. There’s still time to register for the course. Check out what one attendee had to say about it!
“This course really CHANGED things for me. I feel like this course gave me a new set of eyes, a new set of skills, and a real sense of responsibility! I am always sharing things that I learned from this class. I have already told everyone I know about it! In other words, this course basically blew my mind!”
Whether you’re an experienced dog guardian or a new pet parent, we find that there’s always more to learn about caring for our canine companions. For a complete list of tips for dog guardians, visit our Pet Care page.
Guest blog by Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations
Last week proved quite a week for animal issues in our nation’s capitol. The U.S. House of Representatives took up the Farm Bill, a large agriculture-policy bill passed by Congress every five years. The ASPCA has worked hard to ensure that the bill contained priority language to make it illegal to bring children to, or be a spectator at, organized animal fights (it is spectators who fuel the market for these disgusting events).
Unfortunately, the Farm Bill also included several troubling provisions for animals.
The worst of these was a provision authored by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) that sought to gut state and local laws that improve conditions for farm animals and any other animals that might fall under the vague “agricultural product” label. It could have invalidated important state laws that ban gestation crates and battery cages, and even undermine laws regulating puppy mills, preventing the killing of dogs or cats for food, and protecting consumers from dangerous food products.
An amendment was proposed to remove and replace this terrible provision with standards to improve the lives of egg-laying hens. Unfortunately, House leadership ruled against consideration of this amendment, as well as amendments to ban horse slaughter and clamp down on the practice of horse soring.
In a bittersweet twist of fate, the House Farm Bill was ultimately defeated on the floor last Thursday afternoon. It failed under the weight of all-too-familiar Washington gridlock. As the House of Representatives goes back to the drawing board with the Farm Bill, the ASPCA will work to make sure the bill includes animal welfare reforms and that Congress allows fair and open debate on issues like horse slaughter, horse soring and the treatment of our nation’s egg-laying hens.
On a more positive note, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment sponsored by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to prevent horse slaughter from returning to the United States. Stay tuned for more information about that important development for our nation’s horses.