Understanding Beef Labels

Don’t be fooled by food labels that sound like they mean better for cows. Use our guide below to learn how these labels actually impact cow welfare—or how they don’t. Look for the ASPCA recommended labels Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership (Step 2 or higher), and then sign up to join the Shop With Your Heart movement for the latest info on finding these products and making welfare-conscious choices when you shop.

 Animal welfare certificationsOther independent certificationsIndustry certificationOther claims
beef label guide

AWA Logo
Animal Welfare Approved

Certified Humane
Certified
Humane

Global Animal Partnership
Global Animal Partnership

American Humane Certified
American Humane Certified

USDA Organic
USDA Organic†

American Grassfed
American Grassfed Association 

Beef Quality Assurance Certified
Beef Quality Assurance Certified

grass fed
Grassfed

Free Range
Free Range


Natural

Meaningful On-Farm Welfare Standards

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

No

No

No

Feedlots Prohibited

Yes

No, but sets standards for space, shade, dust & mud

Step 1: No, but sets standards for space

Step 2: No, but sets standards for space, shade & enrichment

Step 4-5+: Yes

No, but sets standards for shade, dust & mud

No

Yes

No

No

No

No

Pasture Access Required

Yes, “continuous outdoor pasture access”

No, but continual access to the outdoors. If grass-fed, continuous pasture access required after calf-rearing

Step 1-2: 2/3 of life on range or pasture

Step 4: 3/4 of life on range or pasture

Step 5-5+: Continuous access to range or pasture

No

Yes, “free access to certified organic pasture for the entire grazing season” (≥ 120 days/yr)

Yes, “maximum access to pasture”

No

Yes, continuous access to pasture during the growing season

No, but undefined outdoor access

No

Diet Requirements

“Must be provided with at least 70% long fiber roughage/ forage in their diet on a daily dry matter basis”

Must be provided with feed or forage containing sufficient fiber to allow rumination. If grass-fed, diet must consist of grass and forage and any feed supplements must not include grain

“Palatable fibrous foods, such as grass, hay, haylage, or silage, must be continuously available”

“Adult cattle must be provided with a supplemental source of fiber to promote rumination”

“Ruminants’ diets must contain at least 30% dry matter (on average) from certified organic pasture…. The rest of its diet must also be certified organic, including hay, grain, and other agricultural products”

“Grass and forage will be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant”

Not addressed

Ruminants must be fed only grass and forage (Unless label indicates other %)

Not addressed

Not addressed

Weaning Requirements

Calf must be ≥ 6 months and average age must be ≥ 8 months

Average age must be ≥ 6 months

Step 1-4: Calf must be ≥ 6 months

Step 5: Calf must be ≥ 8 months. Two-step weaning is required

Step 5+: Natural weaning

> 3 months

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Dehorning Prohibited

Yes

No, but pain control is required

Yes

No, but pain control is required

No

No

No

No

No

No

Disbudding Prohibited

No, but pain control is required for hot iron

No, but pain control is required for all methods

Step 1 -4: No, but pain control is required for hot iron

Step 5-5+: Yes

No, but pain control is required for hot iron

No

No

No

No

No

No

Maximum Transport Duration

8 hrs

8 hrs

Step 1: 25 hrs

Step 2-4: 16 hrs

Step 5: 8 hrs

Step 5+: Transport not permitted

None

None

None

None

None

None

None

Routine Antibiotic Use Prohibited

Yes

Yes

Yes

No, allows nontherapeutic use of ionophores

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

Growth Hormones Prohibited

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

On-Farm Audits of Every Facility

Yes

Generally yes, but not every facility is audited in producer groups and beef marketing groups

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No on-farm audits at all

No

No

No

Timing of Audits

Once every year

Once every year

Once every 15 months (in order to see a farm in each season)

Once every year

Once every year

Once every 12-15 months

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

100% Compliance with Standards

Yes

Yes

Yes

No*

Yes

Yes

No (standards are guidelines, not requirements)

No

No

No

† Although the USDA Organic program released new, stronger animal welfare standards in January 2017, it delayed their implementation for months. Finally, in December 2017, the USDA announced its intention to withdraw these new standards completely. We are monitoring developments and will keep you updated; be sure to join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade for alerts if you haven’t already.

* American Humane Certified standards only require that producers meet 85% of the provided standards. Accordingly, it is possible that a producer might not meet certain requirements (including antibiotic and hormone use) and still receive the American Humane Certified certification.