“Where [the demand for] humanely raised animal [products] is today, is about where organic was 30 years ago. There is a burgeoning consciousness about it and there are beginning to be people who certify, but there is a lot of fraud” that must be addressed quickly in order for change to continue at the current rate, Mackey said at Natural Products Expo West last week in California.
He explained that consumers are beginning to “have their consciousness awakened” about how conventional factory farming treats animals – such as chickens in small cages that are stacked on top on one another, restricting hogs’ movement in gestation crates and modifying animals without anesthesia to reduce the risk of harm that comes with tighter living conditions. Thanks in part to the Internet, social media and documentaries such as At The Fork that provide a window into animal agriculture, this awareness is spreading more quickly than it did for organic, he added.
In response, some people are becoming vegans and some are seeking products from more humanely treated animals, creating a marketing opportunity for farmers, ranchers, retailers and manufacturers willing to raise their standards to meet consumer demand, he said.
The market potential of improved animal welfare
Mackey's claims are supported by a 2015 Consumer Reports Survey that found 84% of consumers view “better living conditions for farm animals” as “very important” and “important,” and 2016 Lake Research Partners Survey data that found 74% of consumers say they are paying more attention than they were five years ago to labels reflecting how animals are raised.
To help farmers and ranchers meet this demand, 67% of consumers surveyed by Lake Research Partners in 2016 said they would pay a modest price increase for welfare-certified products. Indeed, just like farmers earn a premium for organic produce, some farmers report receiving double-digit premiums for welfare-certified products, according to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The risk of fraud
Unfortunately, Mackey said, not all animal products claiming to be from humanely treated herds or flocks actually are truthful.
“A lot of companies use [animal welfare claims] liberally, but they are not buying these products from any certified program. They are just making claims and as a result” two things are happening, Mackey said. “A good thing, in a sense, is that the consciousness is expanding” and more people are becoming aware of animal welfare issues, but “a bad thing is that people are beginning to expect animal welfare meat to be approximately the same cost as factory farm meat and that is not possible.”
He explained that like organic, humanely raised animal agriculture systems are more expensive.
“Factory farming is incredibly efficient. It is incredibly cruel, but it is incredibly efficient and what is going to happen is, over time as people’s consciousness is awakened, capital will flow into the system and [humanely raised animal agriculture] will become more efficient.
"But there is a significant gap – just like there is a gap between organic and conventionally grown products,” Mackey said, adding, “I think organic is moving into maturity as this is still a relatively new concept in the early stages, but I do expect it to rapidly improve as companies, like Applegate, get behind it, it is going to scale very rapidly.”
How certification can help
But to ensure the success of the movement and reduce the risk of fraudulent or misleading claims, Mackey said that farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, retailers and end consumers all must look for humanely raised animal certification.
He also suggested that the government may need to step up enforcement against “greenwashing, ecologically-washing or what we call humane-washing.”
Currently, there are several trustworthy certifiers, which the ASPCA parses here.
If products are certified and consumers understand the value and cost of improved animal welfare, Mackey believes that the humane treatment of animals not only will grow to be as big as organic but will get there at a much faster rate than organic.
“I really do think we can make a huge difference in the next 10-15 years,” he said. “This world will be a truly different place, but it will require a lot of creativity and entrepreneurship.”