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WASHINGTON -- The nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) here is introducing Animal Welfare Approved, a seal for meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs that the organization says features the highest standards for the humane treatment of farm animals. Over 500 farms currently adhere to AWI's standards.
"At the heart of our standards is concern and advocacy for the animals," said AWI president Cathy Liss in a statement. "While many other specialty labels may begin with the economic interests of industrialized agribusiness in mind, Animal Welfare Approved prioritizes each individual animal's comfort and well-being."
The standards encompass all aspects of an animal's life, from socialization and natural behavior to assurances of comfort and freedom from intensive confinement. Animal Welfare Approved is the first seal to guarantee that humanely labeled products don't come from businesses that raise most of their animals under what the AWI considers cruel and unnatural conditions, while also raising some in accordance with so-called humane standards.
"Until now, consumers have had no way to tell if their dollars were supporting a farm that truly treats all of their animals well," noted Liss. "In a practice we call 'double standard certification,' some outfits label products 'humane' for their adherence to certain standards while permitting the bulk of animals to be raised using cruel industrial practices. In so doing, the agribusiness seeks to maximize its profits and control the market by displacing family farmers who raise all their animals according to a high standard of welfare."
A further difference is that only independent family farms can earn the Animal Welfare Approved seal, as the organization's program was created to revitalize a culture of family-owned and -managed farms, which AWI believes have a true connection to and stake in the health of their animals, in contrast to impersonal factory farms run by hired hands and overseen by distant corporate owners.
The program also prohibits cutting off parts of the beaks of live chickens and the tails of live pigs, common practices permitted by earlier labeling programs. The new standards not only ban these practices, but also confront their root causes by requiring an environment the animals can socialize naturally and have no fear or stress-induced inclination to harm each other.
"I've found that most people care about buying meat from animals that were given a good life, but they don't know what to buy and what to avoid," observed Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch, a network of traditional family farms. Farms that supply pork to Niman Ranch were the first to earn the Animal Welfare Approved seal. "Now the Animal Welfare Approved seal will help consumers select products from traditional farms that allow all their animals to move and socialize freely, breathe fresh air, and grow naturally."
AWI consulted scientists, veterinarians, and farmers during the drafting of the standards, and the organization and its agents inspect farms for compliance before awarding the seal. To provide accountability and ensure that consumers can trust the quality of product that carry the seal, AWI and its agents continue inspections after a farm has been endorsed.
Supporters of the seal include Robert Kennedy Jr., actress Rosemary Harris, restaurateur Dan Barber, and independent farmers across the United States.
The Animal Welfare Approved standards offer information for farmers who want to adopt AWI's humane system for raising and handling livestock. A complete list of the requirements for acceptance into the program is available at http://www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org.