Understanding Dairy Labels

Don’t be fooled by food labels that sound like they mean better for dairy 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.

Dairy Guide

AWA Logo
Animal Welfare Approved
 

Certified Humane
Certified
Humane

American Humane Certified
American Humane Certified

USDA Organic
USDA Organic†

American Grassfed
American Grassfed Association

grass fed
Grassfed

Free Range
Free Range

Hormone/ rBST-Free
Hormone/ rbST-Free


Natural

Tethering Prohibited

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

No

No

No

Group Housing Required for Calves

Yes > 28 days

Yes > 8 weeks

Yes > 8 weeks

No

No

No

No

No

No

Pasture Access Required

Yes, “continuous outdoor pasture access”

No, but “access to exercise areas for 4 hours per day, weather permitting”

No

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

Yes, “maximum access to pasture” during the grazing season (≥ 150 days/yr)

Yes, continuous access to pasture during the growing season

No, but undefined outdoor access for ≥ 120 days/yr

No

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”

“Adult cattle must be provided with a supplemental source of fiber as necessary 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, except for milk consumed prior to weaning”

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

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Tail Docking Prohibited

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

No

No

Dehorning Prohibited

Yes

Yes

No, but pain control is required

No

No

No

No

No

No

Disbudding Prohibited

No, but pain control is required

No, but pain control is required

No, but pain control is required

No

No

No

No

No

No

Weaning Requirements

> 6 weeks “Separation of the calf from its mother must involve methods designed to cause as little stress as possible”

> 5 weeks No guidance given on separation from mother

> 5 weeks No guidance given on separation from mother

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Dry Period1

Not addressed

> 60 days

25 days

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Destination of Male Calves

Cannot be sold to “farms that have confinement, crated or slatted veal systems”

Prohibits on-farm euthanasia of healthy bull and heifer calves

Cannot be moved off-farm until they have received colostrum, can eat/drink unaided, are dry and can walk

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Hormone Use Prohibited

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

Routine Antibiotic Use Prohibited

Yes

Yes

No, allows nontherapeutic use of ionophores

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

On-Farm Audits

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

Detailed On-Farm Welfare Standards

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

No

No

No

100% Compliance with Standards

Yes

Yes

No*

Yes

Yes

No

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.

1 The dry period is the period of time between when a cow stops being milked and her subsequent calving. It is intended to give the cow time to rest and recoup body condition before calving and the start of her next lactation cycle.

* 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 or hormone use) and still receive the American Humane Certified certification.