“We are here today to celebrate and give thanks to those who are working to build a better world – a better world for people and animals by committing to and advancing the humane treatment of farm animals in food production,” Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association, told politicians and their staff, farmers, food producers and leaders in the farm animal movement at a briefing Nov. 19 in Washington, DC.
She lauded “American farmers and ranchers who not only put food on our families’ tables, but who work to put the ‘heart’ back in ‘heartland’ by providing food that is safe, abundant, affordable and humanely raised under ethical, commonsense and science-based standards.”
She also thanked food service providers and CPG manufacturers for their efforts to source humanely raised animal products and encouraged them to continue forward on the issue.
Specifically, she extolled Taco Bell’s announcement Nov. 19 to use only cage-free American Humane Association certified eggs at its restaurants by the end of 2016. The move aligns the fast food chain with others in the space, including McDonald’s Corp., Burger King, Starbucks Corp. and Panera Bread Co.
The announcement also came a few weeks after the Kellogg Co. said it would source 100% cage-free eggs and eliminate gestation stalls from its pork supply chain by the end of 2025. This follows General Mills’ recommitment earlier this year to work toward 100% cage free eggs in the US. Other CPGs have made similar declarations.
While cage-free hens are not confined to 8.5 by 8.5 square foot cages, they still only have 1.2 square feet of space and are confined inside – so the situation is not as natural as “true free range,” which is what the happy egg co. calls its farming model. It gives hens 21.8 square feet of space and access to outside, the company’s President David Wagstaff, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Still, he acknowledged, the move to cage-free eggs is a step in the right direction.
Consumer demand drives change
Granzert also praised consumers for helping to drive the shift to more humanely produced animal products.
“Humanely raised food products are becoming more and more what is commanded and what is being expected and … consumers are driving this trend,” she told FoodNavigator-USA.
She explained a survey commissioned by the association found 95% of consumers are very concerned about animal welfare – up from 89% in 2013.
In addition, she noted, “the top label claim they were concerned about – over organic, over natural and over antibiotic-free was humane.”
About three-quarters of Americans surveyed by the association also said they are very willing to pay more for humanely raised eggs, meat and dairy products, she added.
Despite this support, the association says only about a third of consumers buy humanely raised foods, in part because the products are not available or were too expensive, according to the survey.
With this in mind, Ganzert called on American consumers who choose to eat animal products to “set a humane table for the holidays and support human farm practices,” which in turn should pressure players higher up the chain to increase production of these products so they are easier to find and more affordable.
Becoming American Humanely certified
Manufacturers and producers that want to demonstrate their products are humanely raised can do so by becoming certified by the American Humane Association, which would increase the “transparency and integrity” of the product, Ganzert added.
Currently, “we certify more than 10,000 farms and well over a billion farm animals meet standards which are developed by an independent scientific advisory committee with leading experts in the space of each species covered,” she said.
“There are more than 200 points covered in the audit standards and when farmers and ranchers do this voluntary program they commit to opening their barns and ranches 365 days a year, seven days a week for auditors to be on the ground,” she added.
The process of becoming certified is laborious, but worth it, said Mike Manninen, co-founder of Scandinavian Meat Masters, which claims to be the only company on the market offering American Humane Certified and Non-GMO Project verified pork.
He explained he became certified because “more and more people care about how animals are treated and will only buy meats that are certified humane, and we started Scandinavian Meat Masters because we saw a clear need in the marketplace” and the chance to get in on a movement at the ground level.
With that in mind, he and others at the briefing encouraged more manufacturers and producers to follow suit and treat farm animals humanely.