New labeling for foods from certified farms

New labeling for foods from certified farms

What's in a label? The egg carton may proclaim "free range," but because the term is unregulated by the government, you can't really know if the chickens are foraging in an open field without visiting the farm.

To clear up the confusion, Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), an organization dedicated to improving the welfare of farm animals, created the Certified Humane Raised & Handled label. It identifies the products of farmers and processors whose cows, chickens, pigs, sheep or turkeys enjoy a more natural way of life. To earn the label, farmers must provide sufficient space and appropriate shelter, limit stress to the animals through gentle handling, and keep antibiotics and hormones out of feed. Laying hens may perch and dust-bathe, pigs have enough room to turn around easily, dairy calves are not weaned before five weeks old, and the use of electric prods is prohibited unless necessary for human safety.

Certification by HFAC, which is funded by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and other animal-protection groups, requires annual on-site inspections and a yearly fee. Restaurants that use certified products may also apply to use the label.

Presently, only 24 companies are Certified Humane. HFAC plans to add goats, sheep and young dairy cattle to the list of livestock it certifies in the next year.

For now, the label provides reassurance in a marketplace where terms like "cage-free" are undefined. "Animal welfare is becoming more of an issue to people," says Jesse Laflamme, the farmer at Pete & Gerry's Organic Eggs, which has earned the right to use the label. "We want to assure our customers that we're doing it right."

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