A few tips for accessing higher welfare meat and poultry

Posted on 05/22/2019 by Cameron Harsh
in the Helpful Tips blog

Higher welfare products are available if you know where to look and what to look for. Here are a few tips to help you get started!

For anyone who chooses to include meat and poultry in their diet it is important to source only from producers or retailers who are committed to a high standard of animal welfare that ensures the animals live a life worth living.

This can seem like a daunting task, because the market for humane and high welfare products is complex. 

Branding and labeling are not always clear to shoppers. But do not despair. Higher welfare products are available if you know where to look and what to look for.

And, through buying high welfare products you incentivize growing the market and building a future in which choosing high welfare meat and poultry is simple because they are the only options.

Why high welfare?

The term high welfare refers to how the animals that provide the meat and poultry were raised, especially the quality of the conditions and care that were provided.

Different species require different practices, designs, and specifications.

Generally, though, high welfare means that animals were provided a living environment that encourages them to express their natural behavior and is free from stress, fear, and discomfort.

But high welfare production does not exclusively benefit the animals, it also benefits the environment, public health, and your personal health in several ways.

For example, higher welfare systems can cut down on wastage and emissions from the livestock sector and reduce agricultural usage of antibiotics, which increases the spread of antibiotic resistant superbugs.

What to look for

There is a lot of misinformation out there. It’s important to know what various market claims and labels mean.

It can’t easily be explained in a blog, but several resources are available for navigating common terms and visuals on packaging: see Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices and ASPCA’s Label Guide.

A few key things to remember:

  • Third-party certifications are typically more meaningful and trusted than company-verified claims
  • “Natural” and “humane” used on meat and poultry packaging are not federally defined and could be used by companies in ways that do not align with what those words mean to you.
  • Labels like “No Antibiotics Ever” and “Raised Without Antibiotics” can be problematic, and not in the best interest of animal health and welfare.

If you are dining out it’s become easier to choose restaurants that source from high welfare farmers.

EatREAL certifies restaurants for their sourcing practices, including local, organic, and higher welfare meats.

What to ask

If you have the opportunity to buy directly from farmers, that can be a great way to know how the animals providing the meat were treated and cared for.

Increasingly, farmers are selling their products online through direct sales or Community Supported Agriculture programs.

A farmer’s market may be located in your area at least one day a week, especially between March-October, and many markets participate in the government’s 2 for 1 SNAP benefit program ($2 at the market for every $1 of SNAP funds spent).

If you are able to engage with farmers, here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • How many animals do you raise? A smaller number is generally preferable. Large farms can be high welfare, but farms housing 10,000 or more pigs at a time are likely factory farms.
  • How big is the area in which they live? Larger areas mean more space for each animal to roam, play, and lay down.
  • Do they live indoors? If so, what is the barn like? Indoor systems can be high welfare, but they can also be crowded, barren, and uncomfortable.
  • Are your animals ever kept in cages for any reason? Animals should never be kept in cages
  • Do you give your animals antibiotics in their feed or water? Routine or continuous use of antibiotics is dangerous for animals and humans
  • Do you give your animals drugs to promote weight gain? Unnatural weight-gain comes at the expense of the animal’s health
  • What do your animals eat? A healthy, balanced, and natural diet means a healthy animal.
  • Are your animals able to move about freely and interact with one another? Animals are social beings, just like us
  • Are any physical alterations performed on your animals for non-medical reasons? Painful mutilations are often performed without the use of anesthetics.

How to get more bang for your buck

We know that higher welfare meat and poultry comes with a higher sticker price on the shelf.

But the lower price of conventional meat comes with its own costs that is not reflected in the price per pound: cost to the environment, wild habitats, the climate, and our health care system, just to name a few.

Sourcing only high welfare meat and poultry doesn’t have to break the bank.

Here’s how:

  • Spread smaller portions over several meals. Make meat a side dish, surrounded by lots of grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits for a filling meal with less meat.
  • Make innovative blends. A 16-oz package of high welfare ground beef can make a lot of flavorful burgers if you make blended patties with other proteins like mushrooms, lentils, or quinoa.
  • Mix more alternative meat products into your routine. If you’ve just had a meal with high welfare meat, choose one of the many (and growing) alternative products that provide the flavor and texture of meat without raising any animals. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are capturing media attention, demonstrating to a wide range of new innovators and long-standing companies that alternative proteins are an appealing market.

Ensuring that the protein you eat aligns with your values and concern that all animals live a good life is complex.

But it is not impossible.

High welfare farmers and protein disrupters are taking on the conventional meat industry and they rely on people like you to make their business sustainable.

Follow me on Twitter @piggyprotector for industry news (and fun pig posts). And follow World Animal Protection US on Twitter @MoveTheWorldUS and on Instagram @worldanimalprotectionus to stay up to date on resources and information.