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 take our Shop With Your Heart pledge for the latest info on finding these products and making welfare-conscious choices when you shop.

beef label guide

Animal Welfare Approved
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 

grass fed
Grassfed

Free Range
Free Range


Natural

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

Pasture Access Required

Yes, “continuous outdoor pasture access”

No, but “continual access to the outdoors”

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”

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”

“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”

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

Not addressed

Not addressed

Weaning Requirements

> 6 months

> 6 months

Step 1-4: > 6 months

Step 5: > 8 months. Two-step weaning is required

Step 5+: Natural weaning

> 3 months

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

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

Maximum Transport Duration

8 hrs

None

Step 1: 25 hrs

Step 2-4: 16 hrs

Step 5: 8 hrs

Step 5+: Transport not permitted

None

None

None

None

None

None

Routine Antibiotic Use Prohibited

Yes

Yes

Yes

No, allows nontherapeutic use of ionophores

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Growth Hormones Prohibited

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

On-Farm Audits

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Detailed On-Farm Welfare Standards

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

No

100% Compliance with Standards

Yes

Yes

Yes

No*

Yes

Yes

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.