Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

The following is the most frequently asked questions we received about Humane Farm Animal Care and our Certified Humane® Raised and Handled® label and program.

What does Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) do?

What does Certified Humane® mean?

What makes your organization unique from other certification organizations?

What are the biggest challenges to farm animal work?

What is the most efficient way to get more animals covered under Certified Humane® standards?

What was the initial response to HFAC’s work from the farming community? How has it changed over time?

What’s the difference between “debeak” and “beak trimming” – and what are Certified Humane’s standards here?

What enrichment must farmers supply for their broiler chickens to meet your standards?

Is it possible for a giant factory farm to be lucrative and entirely humane?

Your standards say that laying hens are required to have 1.5 sq. feet per hen. Given the height of an average chicken is about one fifth the height of an average adult human, do you feel permanently confining people with an average of 7.5 square feet per human is humane?

Have you seen the video with the Perdue Chicken farmer who wants to raise awareness for the industry about how farm animals are raised? Have you reached out to him to become a part of your program?

Does HFAC work in any way to approach the welfare problems associated with genetic selection? I ask this with Craig Watts in mind (the Perdue chicken farmer) who recently said that broiler growth is a key cause of broiler suffering (leg deformities, heat stress, and organ failure, etc).

While sows should never be forced to spend their entire life in a crate, I understand the need to protect piglets. What alternative do you suggest to protect piglets from being crushed by their sow outside of gestation crates?

How much does it cost to be approved as Certified Humane® by Humane Farm Animal Care, assuming no changes need to be made in farming practices?

Do Certified Humane® farms get a premium price for their products?

How common is the dark side of livestock treatment that we see once in a while in undercover videos?

How do you determine the humane methods of euthanasia for sick or injured animals on the farm?

Does Certified Humane® standards’ extend to slaughterhouses?

Are animals raised using Humane Farm Animal Care practices more resource intensive then industrial farming techniques?

What practices are still routinely used in American animal agriculture that you would most like to see phased out?

Have you pulled anyone off the program for not passing an inspection?

Why should I care if my meat was raised humanely? To me, it tastes just as good. Why should I care if an animal has suffered for me to eat it?

Please explain how you feel raising animals for slaughter/food production, regardless of the conditions, is humane?

With the root word of humane being “human,” why is it that we should consider animals as equal to humans?

If all farm animals in the world were treated according to your current standards, would you then ‘raise the bar’ requiring additional measures and higher standards be met?
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What does Humane Farm Animal Care do?
Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is the leading non-profit certification organization dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter. The goal of the program is to improve the lives of animals in agriculture, which is achieved by driving consumer demand for the humane raising and slaughter of farm animals through the Certified Humane® Raised and Handled® program.

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What does Certified Humane® mean?

The Certified Humane® Raised and Handled® label on meat, chicken, pork, eggs, pet food or dairy products means that the food comes from farms where Humane Farm Animal Care’s precise, objective standards for the humane treatment of farm animals are implemented.

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What makes your organization unique from other certification organizations?

There are 5 things that make us different from other programs.
1.    Some certification organizations allow a phase in period, we do not.  Anyone applying to the Certified Humane® program must meet all of our standards before they can be certified. There is no “phase in” period allowed.
2.    Our third-party inspectors must have a masters or PhD in animal science or a veterinary degree. In addition, they must have expertise in a specific species so when they’re doing an inspection they know if what they are seeing has simply been set-up to look good or if humane practices are really being used on the farms all the time.
3.    No other humane certification organization has a scientific committee as comprehensive as ours.  HFAC’s 38-person scientific committee is considered the “who’s who” of farm animal welfare work. These scientists hail from all over the world and are as eager as we are to see farm animals raised more humanely. The entire body of their work is research into the actual behavioral needs of farm animals.
4.    We have an educational component to our program. Our scientific committee has always been available to answer questions from farmers on our program about their farm animals, the latest research, how they can improve their practices and how to make life better for farm animals.
5.    We are the only certification organization in the country endorsed by 67 humane organizations, including the ASPCA, HSUS and local humane societies across the country. We think this speaks volumes about the work we do for farm animals.

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What are the biggest challenges to farm animal work?

Working on farm animal issues is perhaps the most difficult of all animal welfare work, and there are two main things that hinder our efforts.

First, it may surprise you to learn that animal liberation activists attack groups like ours daily, attempting to slow our progress for the humane treatment of farm animals. Every morning, we open hate emails that call us “murderers” and tell us that the only way to be humane is to become a vegan. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a vegan. But there is something wrong with animal activists attacking the work animal welfare agencies do to relieve the suffering of farm animals. Sadly, these groups would rather see animals suffer now in order to promote their agenda than support compassionate standards and systemic change to the farm animal system.

That’s unacceptable to us. We want to see systemic change to a factory farming system that is broken. We want to work with farmers to help them change to a more humane system of raising food animals.

Second, it’s difficult to educate consumers and farmers about humane farming and the purpose of our program, due to very limited funding for farm animal programs.

Our mission is to provide relief to animals in agriculture who are farm animals raised and killed for food each year. More than 10 billion farm animals are raised and killed for food in the US each year.

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What is the most efficient way to get more animals covered under Certified Humane® standards?

Consumer demand for Certified Humane® products is the most efficient way to get more animals covered under our standards. The more people want something, the more likely the marketplace will accommodate. In order to do this, we promote people shopping, buying and eating Certified Humane®. In turn, consumers can help. If enough consumers demand stores carry Certified Humane products, they will ask their suppliers to meet our standards to become Certified Humane.  That is how you, the consumer, can make a huge difference in changing how farm animals are raised.

For more information on how to do this, visit our take action page for ideas on how to help out.

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What was the initial response to HFAC’s work from the farming community? How has it changed over time?

When we first started the organization in 2003, the response from the farming community was very negative. Over time, they have come to see the benefits of raising farm animals humanely both for the health of the farm animals and through lower mortality rates, which means they lose fewer animals because of the way they are now raising their animals. The farmers certified in our program are very engaged in our program and happy to see consumer demand growing for food raised more humanely.

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What’s the difference between “debeak” and “beak trimming” – and what are Certified Humane’s standards here?

No chicken is ever “debeaked” in our program, but our standards do call for “beak trimming” of the very tip of the beak. Here’s why. One of the natural behaviors of chickens is pecking at each other to establish a dominance order – much like dogs in the pack fighting to establish the alpha, beta, and so on. The term, “pecking order” comes from centuries old observations of chickens, including the father of the domesticated chicken, the wild Red Jungle Fowl. When laying hens peck at each other, it’s called “feather pecking.”

Simply put, more aggressive birds attack less aggressive birds. It does not matter if the hens are indoors, outdoors or both. This is a natural behavior. In Sweden, where beak trimming was banned, they did a study comparing different housing systems. One of the things they discovered was regardless of the housing system, the highest cause of mortality (death) in laying hens was “cannibalism,” which is perpetuated by pecking. Hens literally can peck each other to death. Regardless of flock size, all birds feather peck. We do not believe that high mortality due to cannibalism is humane. We believe the momentary discomfort of trimming a bird’s beak when the bird is less than 10 days old is far more humane then allowing birds to cannibalize each other.

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What enrichment must farmers supply for their broilers chickens to meet your standards?

We require farmers to provide enrichments for animals that allow them to exhibit their natural behaviors during their short lives. Here is an excerpt from our standard on (laying? broiler? hens):

The inclusion of environmental enrichment has been shown scientifically to improve the bird health and welfare by encouraging birds to be more active, thereby promoting improved leg health. The following is a list of approved “enrichments: Ramps, low perches, pecking blocks, straw bales, scattering of whole grains, cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts, broccoli, rounded tubes, hanging wooden blocks. If chickens are provided with edible material contained in their litter, they will be actively engaged in foraging behavior for extended periods. Pecking and scratching against a rough textured surface will help to prevent beak and claw over-growth. Young chickens appear to enjoy the opportunity to engage in “worm running” when given twisted strips of paper. Guidance for the placement of the enrichment objects throughout the house: For every 1,000 birds is: 1.5 standard sized, long chopped straw bales, 2m of perch space, and one pecking object (peck-a-blocks, cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, broccoli and wooden blocks.

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Is it possible for a giant factory farm to be lucrative and entirely humane?

Yes, a farm can be entirely humane regardless of the size, as long as they meet all of our standards. It’s more challenging because more changes would need to be made than on a smaller farm, but a committed farmer can make those changes, regardless of his or her farm size.

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Your standards say that laying hens are required to have 1.5 sq. feet per hen. Given the height of an average chicken is about one-fifth the height of an average adult human, do you feel permanently confining people with an average of 7.5 square feet per human is humane?

Laying Hens are not confined to 1.5 square feet, like they might be in a closed area, but they are free to move around. All the measurement does is tell you how many chickens you can have in a hundred sq. ft. area to prevent overcrowding. Also keep in mind, this is not an apples to apples comparison. Unlike people, animals like to be in groups and herds and so what we may call crowding is really how they would be hanging out, even in a wide-open space. We observe this behavior with wild animals all the time. The same is true for farm animals. We rely on the top animal scientists and animal welfare experts in the world, who understand the behaviors of farm animals and what they need space-wise to move around and be happy and healthy, to develop our standards to ensure that farm animals are never living in overcrowded conditions.

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Have you seen the video with the Perdue Chicken farmer who wants to raise awareness for the industry about how farm animals are raised? Have you reached out to him to become a part of your program?

We have seen the video and are glad that individual farmers want to help raise awareness for the humane treatment of farm animals. But this farmer has a contract with Perdue, which means the birds are owned by Perdue, so that doesn’t give us any leverage or authority to contact this individual. Based on what we saw in the video, however, this farm had very poor litter management and would have required numerous changes before ever being considered for HFAC’s program.

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Does HFAC work in any way to approach the welfare problems associated with genetic selection? I ask this with Craig Watts in mind (the Perdue chicken farmer) who recently said that broiler growth is a key cause of broiler suffering (leg deformities, heat stress, and organ failure, etc).

The most important thing in raising chickens, regardless of the breed, is management. All chickens grow too quickly when they are kept in light 24 hours a day and don’t receive appropriate exercise or enrichment.

•    Chickens need a minimum of 6 hours of complete darkness to ensure normal growth development.
•    Chickens need enrichment in their environment where they can move around and get exercise, otherwise, they will develop health problems.
•    Chickens need clean, dry litter all day, every day and throughout the night.   Wet litter releases a high ammonia content that results in hock burns and breast blisters on the birds.

Because of this, HFAC’s standards require a minimum 6-hours of complete darkness every day along with proper enrichment and exercise areas. We also require a litter management program and inspect to ensure that the ammonia levels are not detectable and the litter is always dry.

If there is poor management, no matter what breed of chicken, it will suffer.

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While sows should never be forced to spend their entire life in a crate, I understand the need to protect piglets. What alternative do you suggest to protect piglets from being crushed by their sow outside of gestation crates?

Piglets are crushed by sows because they have nowhere to go in current, restrictive farrowing systems. The farmers on our Certified Humane® program do not have these issues since they use different farrowing systems, like PIG-SAFE, a system designed by scientists at the University of Edinburgh that gives the piglets the space to move away from the sow. The success rates are around 95%, which means we still have room for improvement here. But it’s a much better system for allowing the sow to move around more freely.

Here is an alternative to farrowing crates that has recently been developed. http://vimeo.com/101500098

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How much does it cost to be approved as Certified Humane® by Humane Farm Animal Care, assuming no changes need to be made in farming practices?

Every farm that has ever come onto our program has had to make changes, which must be done by them. The only cost after that is for the annual inspections. We have a fee schedule which provides free inspections for small farms and subsidized inspections for larger farms with the bulk of the cost coming from our program operating budget.

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Do Certified Humane® farms get a premium price for their products?

Yes. It is a little more expensive to raise farm animals humanely, and so it usually does cost a little more to buy Certified Humane® foods. Just like anything else that is new to the marketplace, however, we feel this will balance itself out as demand increases and more farmers make the change to raise their animals more humanely.

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How common is the dark side of livestock treatment that we see once in a while in undercover videos?

Exposés in any category always focus on the worst of the worst, and there is a large gap between the worst of the worst and the best of the best. But the issues brought up in these undercover videos are exactly what we are here to prevent and so serve a purpose in educating people and creating awareness about factory farming.

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How do you determine the humane methods of euthanasia for sick or injured animals on the farm?

Our euthanasia standards come directly from the American Veterinary Medical Association…our nation’s veterinarians. They are designed to provide a quick and painless death for sick or injured animals on the farm.

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Does Certified Humane® standards’ extend to slaughterhouses?

We require that the producers who apply to the program have their livestock slaughtered at slaughter plants that meet the American Meat Institute (AMI) guidelines. We inspect the slaughter plants they have their livestock slaughtered at to ensure they are meeting the AMI Guidelines.  If they are not meeting the AMI Guidelines, the slaughter plant has the option to change their practices to meet those guidelines or the producer must take their livestock to another slaughter plant. If they do not take their livestock to another slaughter plant, they will not be Certified Humane®.  For chickens and turkeys, HFAC has written the most humane slaughter standards and we inspect the chicken and turkey slaughter operations to ensure these standards are being met. If they are not being met, the farm will not be Certified Humane®.

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Are animals raised using Humane Farm Animal Care standards more resource intensive then industrial farming techniques?

Studies that have suggested that free-range or pasture grazing (if managed intensively) can benefit the environment, rather than degrade it. Some of the work that has been done in this area is from the Savory Institute.

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What practices are still routinely used in American animal agriculture that you would most like to see phased out?

We would like to see the elimination of:
•    Gestation stalls and farrowing crates for pigs;
•    Cages for laying hens;
•    All inhumane slaughter;

This is just a start….

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Have you pulled anyone off the program for not passing an inspection?

Absolutely. Third-party inspectors’ reports are submitted to HFAC for review. If a farm is not continuing to meet HFAC’s Standards of Care, they are removed from the program and the label is removed from the product.

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Why should I care if my meat was raised humanely? To me, it tastes just as good. Why should I care if an animal has suffered for me to eat it?

If we can’t persuade you to care about the treatment of farm animals on its own merits, then please know that raising a farm animal more humanely has a direct impact on your health and the health of the environment. Farm animals that are not raised humanely are fed diets of animal by-products, antibiotics (which causes antibiotic resistance in people), and hormones (which causes early onset puberty in our youth). As far as the environment goes, fewer animals on more space is better for the land, the air, and the water.

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Please explain how you feel raising animals for slaughter/food production, regardless of the conditions, is humane?

This is a complicated question that shows you ponder some of the same questions we do. Our organization, however, is philosophically neutral about diet and does not debate whether or not people should or should not eat meat. Our goal is to address farm animal issues in real time. The simple truth is, 95% of the U.S. population (Source: Gallup Poll, 2012) eats meat and our goal has been to improve the lives of farm animals today by setting standards that ensure they are treated better and allowed to live more normal lives. Right now, we are proud to say 96.7 million farm animals live under our standards in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Peru.

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With the root word of humane being “human,” why is it that we should consider animals as equal to humans?

We are not trying to liberate farm animals; we are simply trying to make sure that if we are raising animals in agriculture that they get to live natural, more humane lives, free from abnormal distress. That is what the word humane means.

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If all farm animals in the world were treated according to your current standards, would you then ‘raise the bar’ requiring additional measures and higher standards be met?

Yes, we continually update our standards as new research comes to light that will improve their care and facilitate the most humane lives for farm animals.

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