Consumers are removed from agricultural production and animal husbandry, yet the overwhelming majority of consumers care about how their food is produced. That’s an enormous opportunity for farmers and ranchers to tell their story about animal care. Unfortunately, we’ve seen producers be confronted by those who have coopted the word “humane,” and who may have an entirely different agenda than animal welfare or do not believe farm animals can be raised humanely under any circumstances.
Why don’t we take “humane” back?
At American Humane Association, the country’s first national humane organization, we run the longest-standing farm animal welfare certification program, the American Humane Certified program. We aren’t like other organizations that claim to speak for animals. We believe in animal welfare, and we believe that science—not emotion or misinformation—is the center of good animal welfare policy. That’s reflected in our scientific advisory committee featuring nearly 20 veterinarians and animal-science experts.
Our vision is that farmers can provide affordable, humanely certified food for all Americans—which will allow producers to reclaim the word “humane” from those who attack agriculture or who want “humane” to be something only for the wealthy elite.
Our scientific standards cover space, light, air, food, and water, and are based on the internationally accepted Five Freedoms. When these standards are met, consumers can feel comfortable and confident that animals are living a demonstrably humane life, and that farmers are indeed doing the right thing.
Science-based policy is at the center of our program. We also believe collaboration, not contentiousness, is the basis of a good program. Farmers are and have always been the first-line stewards of animal welfare, and American Humane Association has a long history—going back to 1877—of working together positively with farmers and ranchers to ensure best practices. America has a safe, affordable food supply, and now consumers are asking to be assured that it is humane as well.
It’s important that mainstream certification has a broad tent. There are other certification programs, whether independent or internal to a corporation, but these don’t cover many animals, and the costs associated with these programs often make the products too expensive to afford for the average family.
In contrast, the goal of the American Humane Certified program is to provide what Americans want—a third-party guarantee that animals are treated humanely—while not driving up the cost for Americans who want to consume these products. Humanely raised food is not an elitist commodity. It should be accessible to all Americans. It should be the standard by which all animals are raised.
Currently, our program covers more than 1 billion animals in the United States, far more than any other certification program. We work with small, medium-sized and major producers to ensure the welfare of nearly 1 in 8 U.S. farm animals, but there is a way to go in providing a humane guarantee to all Americans.
Science-based measures mean that both producers and consumers can trust in the solidity of the program. And consumers are very much looking for third-party humane certification. According to a recent poll we conducted of 6,000 consumers, 95% of respondents were concerned about the humane treatment of farm animals. 75% stated that they were very willing to pay more for humanely raised eggs, meat, and dairy products. And in ranking of the importance of food labels, “humanely raised” scored highest. Interestingly, however, more than half of respondents (55%) reported that products branded humanely raised were either not available (36%) or too expensive (19%).
There’s clearly consumer demand for humanely raised products—and an opportunity for producers to fill it. Of the existing certification programs you’ll find some that cater to the wealthy or are financially backed by groups with food agendas. Ours is unique in that we want to be a broad, positive conduit between producers and consumers. Ours is unique as we want every animal treated humanely.
Too often the word “humane” is used antagonistically to attack farmers and ranchers or look down at them—even though in our experience most farmers work hard and care for their animals. Scientific and evidence-based practices that are third-party verified are a way to show consumers that you’re doing things right and that the naysayers are wrong.
The Humane Heartland certification program is intended to celebrate and give thanks to American farmers and ranchers who not only put food on our families’ tables, but who work to put the “heart” in heartland by providing food that is safe, abundant, affordable and humanely raised under ethical, commonsense, and scientifically demonstrated standards.
Together, we can recapture the word humane.
Robin Ganzert is president and CEO of the American Humane Association. For more information, visit www.americanhumane.org.