It can be difficult to differentiate between food produced by sustainable farmers using humane practices, and corporate agribusinesses greenwashing their products because the current rules on food labeling leave a lot of room for vague claims.
For example “Pasture Raised,” suggest certain practices were used or standards were met, but do not guarantee it, or words such as “natural” have ceased to have any true meaning. “USDA Organic Certification” or “Animal Welfare Approved” on the other hand are clear indications that the food has been certified to meet certain requirements.
The labels in this guide are trustworthy and carried out by an accredited certifying organization.
Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) is a standard for farm animal welfare – the basic premise is that animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being.
This label certifies that animals raised for dairy, lamb, poultry and beef products are treated in a humane manner. Traceability ensures that that products come from the farms that were inspected. Under the program, growth hormones are prohibited and animals are raised on a diet without antibiotics. Antibiotics can be used in the treatment of sick animals. Access to clean and sufficient food and water; and a safe and healthful living environment is also required from birth through slaughter. Producers also must comply with environmental standards.
Demeter Certified Biodynamic
This biodynamic label is an environmental sustainability label that goes even beyond organic standards. It also has basic animal welfare standards.
Certified Grassfed by AGW
This is a top animal welfare standard label by A Greener World (AGW). It requires that animals ate a pasture based, ruminant diet of only grass which provides better animal health and nutrient quality in the final product. Animals were not confined to feedlots and did not have daily drugs.
NOFA-NY Certified Organic Grassfed
The NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed label is highly meaningful and verified. It’s not only a strong environmental label, it also means that the animals used to produce meat and dairy were raised on certified organic farms, and in addition, meat animals must be fed 100% grass or grass-based feed for the entire life of the animal with the exception of milk prior to weaning. Dairy cows must be managed on 100% grass or grass-based feeds for at least 90 days before being eligible to sell milk as NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed.
PCO Certified Organic Grassfed
This label requires that animals were raised on an organic farm, ate a pasture based, ruminant diet of only grass which provides better animal health and nutrient quality in the final product. Animals were not confined to feedlots, and did not have daily drugs.
The GAP label program offers 6 levels of certification primarily for animal welfare. Animals are not fed drugs on a routine basis at all levels. There is a big difference between GAP 1 and GAP 5+ levels. GAP1 has decent animal welfare standards and addresses crowding, cages and crates.
Animals were raised in environments that provide them with more space and additional enrichments (such a straw bales and perches) to encourage natural behaviors. Again, all G.A.P. certified animals are raised without antibiotics or any added hormones, and were fed vegetarian diet with no animal byproducts.
Animals have the choice of indoor or outdoor living (weather permitting for poultry), and also have additional Richmond’s indoors and out. At this level, farms and ranches ensure the animals are managed in both environments.
Animals are raised on pasture year-round. In some climates were pastures need to be protected for you for use the next year, animals must still be given daily access to outdoor areas. Cattle, sheep, goats and bison are not permitted to be finished in feedlots. Farmers and ranchers raise animals that are well-suited for outdoor living, and sustainably manage their environments.
Animals live on posture year-round, with protection from the environment (shelters, windbreak, etc.). Farmers and ranchers raise animals that are well-suited for outdoor living, and sustainably manage their environments. No physical alterations are performed on any of the animals (e.g. castration, tail docking, etc.)
This is the top tier of animal welfare certification. All of the requirements of the animal standard level are met (animals left on pasture year-round with protection, no physical alterations allowed, etc.) but animals are also processed on farm, or through the use of a mobile slaughter facility, so their entire life is spent on the farm.
American Humane Certified
The is a very basic animal welfare label compared to other animal welfare certifications.
American Grassfed Association
This certification is a third-party verified and guarantees that when consumers buy grassfed beef with the AGA logo, they are ensured it was born, raised, and processed in the USA, that the animals were treated humanely, and that they were grazed regeneratively. This confirms to shopkeepers and consumers that AGA certified producers are improving soils, water quality, biodiversity, and American farming communities.
The USDA organic label has among the most meaningful standards for environmental sustainability including prohibiting synthetic fertilizers and industrial pesticides. Animals must eat only organically grown feed (without animal byproducts), can’t be treated with synthetic hormones or antibiotics, must have access to the outdoors, and ruminants (hoofed animals, including cows) must have access to pasture. GMOs are prohibited (though testing is not required).
Certified Naturally Grown
This label was started by farmers to offer a more affordable and navigable alternative to the USDA organic certification process. It generally follows the USDA organic standards but the verification is done by CNG farmers instead of independent certifiers.
Food Justice Certified
This label is a comprehensive label for social justice in farming, especially in the US and requires farms to be Certified Organic as a prerequisite.
Food Alliance Grassfed Certified
Food Alliance is a nonprofit organization that certifies farms, ranches, and food processors and distributors for sustainable agricultural and facility management practices. Food Alliance Certification ensures safe and fair working conditions, humane treatment of animals, and careful stewardship of natural resources.
Certified B Corporation
B Corps meet the highest standards of verified environmental and social performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. It’s the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance.