I know the ASPCA as an organization that helps companion animals, like cats and dogs. Why are you involved with farm animals?
While the ASPCA is known widely for our long history of work with companion animals, we believe that all animals—including those raised for food—should live free from abuse and suffering. In fact, Henry Bergh founded the organization in 1866 partly in response to the horrors occurring at slaughterhouses. There are now over 9 billion land animals raised for food in the U.S. each year, the vast majority in inhumane factory-like facilities. Given the scale of the industry and of the suffering, the ASPCA is working hard to direct consumers, corporations and lawmakers toward solutions that will improve these vulnerable animals’ lives.
What is the ASPCA doing to help farm animals?
Over the past few decades, industrialized facilities known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, have all but replaced the picturesque little farms we may imagine are raising animals for food. These factory farms have maximized profits by treating animals as production units rather than the sentient creatures they are.
There is a better way. Through public education, corporate consultation and engagement with lawmakers, the ASPCA is promoting a more humane farming system—one based on transparent, enforceable and science-based standards for the treatment of all farm animals. These standards currently exist in the form of certain welfare certifications that are verified by third-party welfare auditors. These programs ban the worst practices of industrial farming, provide highly meaningful improvements for animals and restore much needed accountability to our otherwise largely unregulated farming system. Learn more about the most trustworthy welfare certifications in our label guide.
Whether promoting animal welfare improvements for farm animals, fighting whistleblower-suppressing ag-gag laws, encouraging consumers to “shop with your heart,” or helping businesses set progressive, welfare-focused policies, the ASPCA is committed to creating a more humane world for farm animals.
Do factory farming practices negatively impact human health?
Factory farms can create health hazards because they are overcrowded, unsanitary and extremely stressful to animals, reducing animals’ immunity and making it easy for disease to spread. When thousands of beef cattle are packed into feedlots full of manure, or chickens are bred to grow too quickly and spend most of their lives lying in their own waste, there is a higher risk of pathogens traveling on the animals to the slaughterhouse, which in turn can contaminate food.
Routine use of low-dose antibiotics to compensate for the sickening conditions on farms create the perfect breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can then spread to human populations via food—but also travel in water and air from the farms and on the bodies of farmers, farm workers and their families. In part due to the agriculture industry’s reliance on antibiotics to prop up an unhealthy system, the efficacy of these life-saving drugs for humans is rapidly declining. That is why The World Health Organization and the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have recommended restrictions on agricultural uses of antibiotics.
All three of the trustworthy welfare certifications that the ASPCA recommends prohibit the use of antibiotics to promote growth or for otherwise non-therapeutic purposes. Animals raised in lower-stress environments with more space and opportunity to engage in natural behaviors are healthier and less likely to need antibiotics.
Are there laws or government agencies preventing the abuse of animals on industrial farms?
There are almost no legal on-farm protections for animals. While USDA inspectors oversee federally inspected slaughterhouses, neither the USDA nor any other federal agency is charged with overseeing animal welfare on the farms where they’re raised.
The few federal laws governing farm animals welfare only address transportation and slaughter—they do things like limit transportation times, require that animals be stunned before slaughter, and prevent cattle who are too sick to stand up at the slaughterhouse from entering the food supply—but these laws all exclude birds, which are the vast majority of land animals raised for food.
Learn more about the federal and state laws for farm animals and join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade so you will be the first to know if a bill that impacts farm animals’ lives is introduced in your state.
Where does the ASPCA stand on eating animal products?
The ASPCA believes that at every step of their lives—from birth to death—farm animals must be treated with compassion, protected from suffering, and provided with the widely recognized Five Freedoms: freedom from fear and distress; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; and freedom to express natural behaviors. Sadly, that is not the case on most large-scale, modern farms.
As long as animals are being raised by the billions for food, the ASPCA believes that work must be done to relieve their immediate suffering. That means advocating for more humane and transparent standards on farms so that animals live better lives and consumers can make informed decisions about what they are eating. We believe that whatever anyone eats, they have a powerful role to play in this movement by seeking out trustworthy, welfare-certified products and by reducing consumption of animal products. Both of these actions tell the industry that it must address animal suffering and that the American public does not have an appetite for cruelty.
What do you mean by “trustworthy” welfare certifications?
Any food shopper can tell you that food packages are covered in claims that are hard to decipher. Welfare-conscious consumers may seek to purchase brands that actively reject the worst, most cruel practices, but only a handful of food labels verifiably represent more humane methods of farming.
The ASPCA has identified three labels that span a spectrum of higher-welfare ways to raise farm animals, from pasture-based to enriched indoor systems: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership Steps 2 and above.
- All offer comprehensive, on-farm welfare standards
- All ban worst practices including caging and crowding
- All independently audit farms for 100% compliance
- All standards are available online for consumer transparency
We are actively engaged with each of these certification programs to examine ways that their standards and enforcement can be even stronger. We encourage consumers to learn more about the specifics of each program by checking out our label guide and visiting these welfare certifications’ websites.
What else is the ASPCA doing to address the misleading labels currently in the marketplace?
As long as the marketplace is cluttered with confusing labels, it will be difficult for welfare-conscious consumers to make choices that match their values. To that end, we are committed to educating the public about labels that are meaningful versus meaningless, and engaging with government agencies to improve the standards behind labels that are not currently strong. For example, we have worked for years to bring the USDA Organic Program’s standards in line with consumers’ expectations of higher welfare, and the USDA has recently responded, issuing the first comprehensive federal farm animal welfare standards. Learn more about our work to improve USDA Organic.
Which brands are raising animals more humanely?
Our Shop With Your Heart grocery list of food brands that have adopted trustworthy, third-party-audited welfare certifications and are committed to labeling their products as such can be viewed and downloaded here. We also encourage people to try plant-based alternatives.
Does more humane treatment cost more?
It might, but we are encouraged by consumer polls that show Americans highly value animal welfare and food safety and are willing to pay more for ethically produced products. The popularity of cage-free eggs is an example of consumers’ willingness to pay more for a product they believe is better for animals. Likewise, a national survey commissioned by the ASPCA revealed that seven in 10 consumers are willing to spend more money for higher-welfare chicken. Learn more about ASPCA surveys and public opinion surrounding farm animal welfare issues here.
Improving the welfare of animals will require some investment by the industry into better genetics, better environments and more space to promote the animals’ well-being. It is unclear how much of that cost would be passed on to consumers, but as supply grows due to increased demand, those costs should come down.
What can I do to help?
Whatever you eat, you have a huge role to play in ensuring better treatment of farm animals. The ASPCA needs members, advocates and consumers to get involved, share information with their friends and families, and be ambassadors of farm animal welfare in whatever ways they can be! You can take a simple but important action as a consumer by signing up to Shop With Your Heart, which will also ensure that you learn about new resources we’re developing. You can also learn about legislation that impacts farm animals in your state (and at the federal level) by joining our Advocacy Brigade. Thank you so much for your support—together we can build a better world for farm animals.