The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

American Humane Certified

American Humane Certified

Food Safety Update

October 24, 2010

By definition, food safety is a scientific discipline that encompasses the handling, preparation and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. Seldom mentioned in this description, however, is the way in which the animals are raised, and treated, prior to joining the food chain.

Growing in importance and visibility in the arena of food safety is the humane treatment of farm animals. American Humane Association’s Farm Animal Program is a voluntary, fee-based third party certification service available to producers of animals raised for food administered by American Humane Association, the oldest humane organization in the United States dedicated to the protection of both children and animals. 

Through audits conducted by an independent third party, American Humane issues certification to producers who meet their science-based standards, unique for each farm animal species. Some of the basic requirements include ensuring that animals are free to live and grow in a humane and stress-limiting environment, that they are free to enjoy a healthy life, benefiting from injury and disease prevention, that they have access to fresh water and a healthy diet, and that they are free to express normal behaviors and live in an appropriate and comfortable environment. Managers and staff must be thoroughly trained and educated as well.

Kathi Brock is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the American Humane Association Farm Animal Program. She says that from a retailer standpoint, third party verification is extremely important because it provides transparency and accountability. Audits by certified and ISO trained auditors take out subjectivity, thus providing the ultimate objectivity. Additionally, she says, the certification program provides consistency because it is scorable, and it is scored on the same standards – and in the same way – each year for each producer.

“Our certification process covers the entire life cycle of the animal. When animals are stressed or mistreated, especially at the end of life, it can really impact the quality of the product. The work that American Humane Association does, which includes auditing the systems designed by Dr. Temple Grandin to reduce animal stress during these pivotal life cycle events, has really changed the welfare of farm animals in a positive way,” says Brock.

The whole concept of animal welfare is relatively new worldwide, and started in the UK in the early 90’s. At that time, the USDA granted Texas Tech a grant to research a national animal welfare certification program. Texas Tech enlisted the American Humane Association in its efforts to study and create the program together. The research they completed became the basis of the certification methods used today in the U.S. and stem from the “5 Freedoms” – the basis for animal welfare in the UK. Standards are updated and reviewed regularly by the Scientific Advisory Committee of the American Humane Certified program, based on the latest research, technology, and the latest practices.

Public demand for this type of certification is on the rise. A 2007 survey conducted by the American Humane Certified program found that 58% of consumers would spend 10% more for meat, poultry, eggs or dairy products labeled as humanely raised. These same consumers rank the humane label as more important than labels touting a product as “organic” or “natural”. 

“One of the most unique recent aspects of the American Humane Association certification process is the use of video monitoring. For example, with a product like veal, there is doubt, confusion and mistrust about how the animals are raised. To make sure people understand how we certify veal we video tape the farms to monitor how the animals are being humanely raised,” says Brock.

Brock says that they’ve also recently approved Enriched Colony Housing for laying hens. The first farm to install the Enriched Colony Housing system that is certified has even decided to post the mandatory live videos of their birds on their web site to demonstrate the benefits of this type of housing as an appropriate welfare solution for laying hens.

“One important thing we’ve learned over the years about animal welfare is that we can’t judge the welfare conditions based on space alone. We know that birds can be raised humanely if they are free to perform their natural behaviors, like being free to lay their eggs in a nest box, or having access to perch or scratch areas,” says Brock.

The American Humane Association certifies eggs produced in cage-free and free range environments too. Recently, they announced that over two-thirds of all cage-free eggs being produced in the U.S. now come from producers that have earned the American Humane Certified™ label. They currently certify cage-free egg producers representing 8 million of the 10 to 12 million laying hens producing cage-free eggs annually in the U.S.

“Certification is a good marketing tool that producers and retailers are looking for, and it can provide them with a clear marketing advantage. Another advantage of certification is transparency and accountability for the producer,” says Brock. “On the consumer end, they have a growing interest in animal welfare. It’s now part of their expectations that the person who produces their food is going to consider that the animal is humanely raised in good health and in a stress-free environment. The concept that good animal welfare contributes to better food safety is an understood social contract with consumers.”

Click here for more information on the American Humane Certification process.

Click here to view the hens at JS West.