The Deep Dive on Animal Welfare

Tue, September 11, 2018

The Certifications Labels to Trust and Standards to Look for to Ensure Humane Treatment Across Your Supply Chain

Each year in the Menus of Change Annual Report, we provide a succinct summary of the key issues facing the restaurant and foodservice industry, including an issue brief addressing animal welfare and the use of drugs and chemicals in livestock production. In short, here are just a handful of the key pieces of guidance we provide in that brief:

  • Consumer demand in the U.S. continues to move the foodservice industry and some producers, notably the poultry industry, to raise animals without medically important antibiotics and, consequently, with increased attention to animal welfare.
  • There is a natural link between the problem of antimicrobial resistance caused by using low-dose antibiotics for prophylaxis against the spread of disease in crowded, unhygienic industrial livestock operations and animal welfare practices. Without relying on the crutch of antibiotics, producers must reduce crowding and provide more effective waste management techniques. In doing so, the environment for the animals becomes more humane and healthier.
  • Chefs and foodservice operators can play a vital role by sourcing their animal products from producers who raise their animals without the use of low-dose antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention. Fish and seafood should be included in any antibiotic reduction policies.

These imperatives can best be managed from a cost perspective by remembering the guidance to move towards plant-forward and purchase “less meat, but better meat.” In the end, this is a strategy that is better for the animals, better for our health and the environment, and can be at least cost neutral on the budget. 

(Click here to read the full 2018 Menus of Change Annual Report.)

This blog post takes a deeper dive into animal welfare—which of course relates to two important MOC principles: "Be transparent about sourcing and preparation” and “Reward better agricultural practices.” To look at what humane animal husbandry truly means—for your operation, your customers, and your suppliers—we sat down with three experts from three respected NGOs that are aligned with the values and mission of Menus of Change. Here are their bottom-line answers to three burning questions.

Three Questions, Three Perspectives

Question 1: What are the top three most meaningful third-party certification labels for ensuring humane animal welfare practices?

Kristie Middleton, Managing Director, The Humane Society of the United States: There are two, not three. The strongest certification labels for products most widely available in foodservice are Global Animal Partnership’s “GAP Certified” and Humane Farm Animal Care’s “Certified Humane.”

Claire Fitch, Director of Outreach, Farm Forward:There is broad agreement among animal welfare groups that the top three are Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership (GAP), and Certified Humane (especially their Free Range and Pasture Raised poultry standards). We’re especially excited about a commitment from GAP that by 2024, all chicken certified by the program will come from healthier, slower-growing breeds of chickens. This signals a landmark shift in the poultry industry and sheds light on the power of animal welfare certifications to drive meaningful change in large-scale food production. Animal Welfare Approved standards already require that farms use higher-welfare genetics.

Charlotte Vallaeys, Senior Policy Analyst, Consumer Reports: Consumer Reports asked consumers in a nationally representative survey what they think a “humanely raised” label on food should mean. One of the top two most important features was that the animals’ living conditions should allow for natural behaviors, like grazing (the other was that the animals should be treated humanely prior to being slaughtered). The top three labels with standards that ensure that animals can engage in natural behaviors—like grazing for cows, nest building for pregnant pigs, and scratching and pecking for chickens—are Animal Welfare Approved, American Grassfed Certified (only available for beef, pork, and dairy), and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Step 5 and 5+.

Question 2: If a restaurant or foodservice operation’s current supplier of a given product does not offer the third-party certifications you recommend, what are the top three practices that procurement leaders should request or check for?

Kristie Middleton (Humane Society): The first product to switch is your eggs to “cage-free,” which are now available via every major distributor and come in both in-shell and liquid forms. For pork, it’s absolutely critical to ensure the pork comes from operations that don’t confine mother pigs inside “gestation crates,” cages barely larger than the pig’s own body that prevent them from even turning around for the duration of their pregnancy. For chicken meat, it’s good to ask suppliers if chickens are provided enrichments (like perches, hay bales, etc.) and are the slower-growing breeds, rather than typical breeds, which are genetically manipulated to grow so big, so fast, they’re full size at just 45 days.

Claire Fitch (Farm Forward): Certifications are really the only way to ensure that products are coming from animals raised in higher-welfare conditions. Terms like “pasture-raised” and “grass-fed” aren’t regulated, so producers can define what those terms mean to them. If you absolutely can’t find or buy a certified product, we recommend looking for products that come from animals given access to pasture throughout their entire lives. Farms that raise animals with access to the outdoors are also likely following other animal welfare best practices on the farm, such as giving ample space to each animal, responsibly using antibiotics, and raising healthy breeds of animals that have the ability to express natural behaviors.

Charlotte Vallaeys (Consumer Reports): If those certifications, which ensure that the animals can engage in their natural behaviors, are not available, then animals should at least be housed comfortably. If cattle are confined in feedlots, they should have shade to protect them from heat, windbreaks to protect them from the cold, and dry areas that aren’t muddy. If chickens and pigs are confined in buildings, they should have fresh air, reasonable cycles of light and darkness, and clean bedding. Laying hens should have nest boxes, perches for roosting, and fresh air. And at a bare minimum, there should be no confinement that restricts the animals’ movement, like narrow farrowing crates for pigs or conventional battery cages for laying hens.

Question 3: What would you suspect is the most commonly overlooked area of a restaurant or foodservice operation’s ingredient portfolio that you think deserves greater attention with respect to the conditions in which animals are raised?

Kristie Middleton: In addition to those above, I’d consider which ingredients from animal products can be easily switched to plant-based ingredients, i.e., leaving eggs out of baked goods. This not only benefits animals, but plant-based ingredients typically are more affordable, are more climate-friendly, and are healthier for your customers. A little creativity shifting to more plants goes a long way.

Claire Fitch (Farm Forward): Blended products and alternative cuts of meat. We’re seeing more institutions and companies introduce mushroom and beef blended burgers, but there’s still room for wider adoption of this trend. There are also new products coming on the market that can be blended into poultry dishes. Additionally, it would be great to see foodservice operations using different cuts of meat, such as chicken thighs and drumsticks in place of boneless, skinless breasts (which cost more anyway). This could help foodservice operations afford higher-welfare animal products and potentially purchase whole animals—benefiting small and mid-size farmers—as opposed to pre-cut or value-added products.

Charlotte Vallaeys (Consumer Reports): I suspect that ingredients like butter and cheese may likely be overlooked. Just as grazing on pasture is important for the welfare of beef cattle, it is important for dairy cows as well. There are also some ways to house dairy cows that restrict their movement, so these ingredients should be sourced from farms that don’t continually confine their cows in tie stalls or muddy feedlots.

Now it’s time for your perspective! Do you have a case study to share around shifting your operation to more humane animal welfare standards? What has your experience been with third-party certifications—have they been helpful? We’d like to hear from you, so send your stories to and we’ll consider them for future blog posts.

And we hope you’ll join us for the 7th Annual Menus of Change Leadership Summit, June 18-20, 2019, at the CIA’s Hyde Park, NY campus. Register now.