Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some frequently asked questions about Humane Farm Animal Care and the Certified Humane® Raised and Handled® program.
Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is the leading non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter. HFAC administers the Certified Humane® Raised and Handled program, a voluntary farm animal welfare certification program which requires farmers and further processors to comply with precise, objective standards for humane treatment of animals and traceability of certified products. The Certified Humane® logo enables producers to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and empowers consumers to “vote with their pocketbook” and drive demand for humanely raised animal products.
The Certified Humane® Raised and Handled logo can be found on meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, pet food, textiles and personal care products. Only operations which have earned certification from HFAC may use the Certified Humane® logo. When you see the logo, you can be assured that the animal ingredients are from animals which were raised and handled in compliance with HFAC’s animal welfare standards from birth through slaughter, and further processed in compliance with HFAC’s strict traceability requirements.
There are many factors that set HFAC apart – here are just a few:
- While some certification programs allow operations to be certified with a “phase in” period before they have to comply with all requirements, we do not. All operations applying to the Certified Humane® program must be fully compliant with the standards before they can be certified, period. There is no “phase in” period allowed, and any non-conformances that are found must be corrected in order to achieve certification.
- All of our third-party farm inspectors must be veterinarians or have an advanced degree in animal science. In addition, they must have expertise in the species that they inspect; this ensures that they can tell whether a farm is just trying to make things look good for their inspection, or if they are actually consistently implementing humane practices.
- No other humane certification organization has a scientific committee as comprehensive as ours. HFAC’s 40-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 dedicated as we are to improving farm animal welfare. The entire body of their work is research into the actual behavioral needs of farm animals.
- We have an educational component to our organization. Our scientific committee is always available to answer questions from certified farmers about their animals, the latest welfare research, how they can improve their practices and how to make life better for farm animals.
- We are the only certification organization endorsed by over 70 humane organizations, including the ASPCA and local humane societies across the country. We think this speaks volumes about the work we do for farm animals.
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. These groups hold the absolute belief that the only way to be humane is to become a vegan.
To be clear, veganism is a completely valid personal lifestyle choice that ensures one’s individual consumption does not support inhumane farming practices. However, a 2018 Gallup poll found that only 5% of Americans are vegetarian or vegan, up from ~1% in 1971 – that’s only a 4% increase in the last 50 years. Because 95% of Americans still eat meat and animal products, more than 10 billion farm animals are raised and killed for food in the US each year to meet this demand. There is an absolute hypocrisy in these groups attacking us for the work that we do to relieve suffering in these animals, since they will be produced regardless of these groups’ efforts to promote veganism.
Our mission is to improve the lives of farm animals. 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. 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, and we spend a large amount of our resources defending our program from these kinds of attacks.
Second, there is very little funding available for farm animal programs, which means that we have very limited resources to educate consumers and farmers about humane farming and the purpose of our program. We depend on the grassroots support of consumers who donate to our program, ask their grocery stores to carry Certified Humane® products, and share their support on social media.
The Certified Humane® program is a voluntary, market-driven certification, so consumer demand for Certified Humane® products is the most efficient way to get more animals covered under our standards. If enough consumers demand stores carry Certified Humane® products, these retailers will require their suppliers to get certified. 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.
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. They did not want to implement additional practices and increase the cost to raise their animals without knowing that it would add value to consumers, and they were wary of any organization promoting farm animal welfare. Over time, many farmers have come to see the benefits of raising their animals in compliance with our program, including improved animal health and ability to express natural behaviors, and being able to differentiate themselves in the marketplace to meet consumer demand for humanely raised products. . Certified Humane® farmers are very engaged in our program and happy to see consumer demand growing for food raised more humanely.
What’s the difference between “debeak” and “beak trimming” – and what are Certified Humane’s standards here?
No chicken is ever debeaked on our program, but our standards do allow for beak trimming in laying hens. This is a very quick procedure which removes the very tip of the beak when the birds are less than 10 days old. As with any physical alteration that is allowed on our program, the benefits to the animal must outweigh any discomfort or stress that they experience during the procedure.
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. Feather pecking is a natural behavior, and when the birds have intact beaks, it can cause serious damage and death to the birds further down the pecking order. In Sweden, where beak trimming was banned, they did a study comparing different laying hen housing systems and flock sizes. One of their findings was that regardless of housing system or flock size, the highest cause of mortality (death) in laying hens was cannibalism due to pecking. Hens literally can peck each other to death
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 than allowing birds to cannibalize each other.
We require farmers to provide enrichments for animals that allow them to exhibit their natural behaviors throughout their lives. Here is an excerpt from our broiler chicken standards on environmental enrichment:
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.
Yes – the Certified Humane® program is scale neutral, so any farm, large or small, can be certified if they can meet all the standards. Large farms often face more logistical and financial challenges in making the necessary changes to their housing and practices in order to meet the standards, but a committed farmer can make those changes, regardless of their farm size.
Your standards say that laying hens are required to have 1.5 sq. feet per hen – this is a very small amount of space to confine a bird in, how is this humane?
This is a misunderstanding of how the standards for space are implemented. This space requirement is the minimum amount of housing space per bird that a farm can have – so for example, if a house had 100 hens, there would need to be 100x1.5sq.ft = 150 square feet in the house. The hens would be free to move about anywhere in the house that they like. It’s important to keep in mind that farm animals are prey animals and they generally feel safer in groups. It is perfectly normal to see hens grouped together at one end of a house, because they feel comfortable and safe in the company of their flock. We observe this behavior with wild animals all the time, and 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.
Does HFAC work in any way to approach the welfare problems associated with genetic selection? I ask this with broiler chickens in mind, since very fast growth is a key cause of broiler suffering (leg deformities, heat stress, and organ failure, etc).
Our broiler chicken standards require farmers to select birds for high welfare traits and avoid genetic strains with undesirable traits. However, the most important thing in raising chickens, regardless of the breed, is management. All chickens can 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 each night to ensure normal growth development.
- Chickens need enrichment in their environment to entice them to move around and get exercise; otherwise, they will develop health problems.
- Chickens need clean, dry litter at all times. 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 litter is always dry and that the ventilation systems are able to control ammonia in all kinds of weather conditions.
If there is poor management, no matter what breed of chicken, it will suffer.
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 farrowing crates?
Traditional farrowing systems restrict sows to the point where they can only stand up and lie down, and cannot even turn around, in order to prevent the sow from crushing the piglets. The sow must remain in the farrowing crate until the piglets are weaned, which can be 4-6 weeks where she does not have freedom of movement or a stimulating environment. The farmers on our program are not allowed to use traditional farrowing systems. Instead they must provide farrowing pens that are large enough to allow the sows to move about, but which are designed to protect the piglets from being crushed. One example is PIGSAFE, an alternative farrowing system designed by scientists at the University of Edinburgh that gives the piglets the space to move away from the sow. The success rate is around 95%, which means there is still room for improvement, but it is a much better balance between the sows’ freedom to move and protecting the piglets.
How much does it cost to achieve Certified Humane® certification, assuming no changes need to be made in farming practices?
Even the most well managed farms applying to our program have had to make some changes in order to earn certification. However, once a farm is in compliance with the standards, the primary cost is the annual inspection fee and the certification fees, which are a fraction of a percent of the farm’s sales of certified products. HFAC charges a flat rate for inspections, which ultimately means that we subsidize the cost of the inspections with funds from our program operating budget. We also offer free inspections for some very small farms to provide them with access to the program. Click here to view our complete fee schedule.
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 anticipate that this will balance itself out as demand increases and more farmers make the change to raise their animals more humanely.
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.
Our euthanasia standards come directly from the American Veterinary Medical Association, which bases their recommendations on the latest scientific research into humane methods of euthanasia.. Any method they recommend has been thoroughly studied and demonstrated to provide a quick and painless death for sick or injured animals on the farm.
We require that the livestock farmers who apply to the program use slaughter plants that meet the American Meat Institute (AMI) guidelines for animal handling and slaughter. Since there is currently no equivalent to the AMI guidelines for poultry slaughter, we have worked with our scientific committee to develop the most humane slaughter standards for chickens and turkey slaughter.
We inspect each farm’s slaughter plant to ensure they are meeting the applicable standards. If the plant is not in compliance with the requirements, they must make the necessary changes their practices, or the farmer will have to find a different slaughter plant which can meet the standards. If a farm is not able to find a slaughter plant which can meet all the requirements, unfortunately they will not be able to be certified.
How sustainable is it to raise animals using Humane Farm Animal Care standards, as compared to industrial farming techniques?
Gauging the sustainability of various ways of raising animals for food is a complex task, and each type of livestock and poultry production faces its own unique sustainability challenges. Here are just a few factors which suggest that raising animals on the Certified Humane® program improves a farm’s sustainability:
- Numerous studies have shown that animals raised and handled in humane conditions are healthier and more productive. This, combined with consumers placing more value on humanely raised animal products, allows a farmer to improve their economic sustainability without an equivalent increase in their environmental footprint. A few examples of this important research:
- Animal Health and Welfare are Vital to Beef Sustainability
- Animal welfare complementing or conflicting with other sustainability issues
- Towards Farm Animal Welfare and Sustainability
- The Savory Institute has conducted research showing that free-range or pasture grazing systems (if managed intensively) can be beneficial for the environment rather than degrading it.
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
- Feeding preventative antibiotics
HFAC inspects each certified operation on an annual basis to verify that they are maintaining compliance with all the standards. The third-party inspectors write thorough reports on their findings, and submit them to HFAC for review. If the inspector found minor noncomformances with the standards that are correctable (e.g. inconsistent record-keeping, small changes needed in the animal environment, etc.), the operation is given a chance to make changes to come into compliance with the standards in order to continue with certification. This is an important step of the annual certification process because it encourages continuous improvement of the certified operations over time.
If a farm cannot or will not correct their nonconformances, or has significant nonconformances that are not correctable, HFAC will no longer continue to certify them. They are removed from the program and the logo is removed from the product.
Why should I care if my meat, dairy and eggs are from animals which were raised humanely? To me, conventionally raised animal products taste just as good.
Numerous studies have established that farm animals are sentient beings which can feel pain and fear and experience frustration when they are unable to express their natural behaviors. In other words, they have the capacity to suffer when kept in conditions that do not support their physical or mental well-being. It is our ethical obligation to ensure that farm animals are raised and handled in ways that prevent their suffering. The primary purpose of our program is to provide farmers a way to ensure they are meeting their animals’ needs while giving consumers a way to easily support humane farming practices.
If we can’t persuade you to care about the treatment of farm animals on its own merits, then consider that raising farm animals more humanely has a direct impact on your health and the health of the environment. Conventionally raised farm animals can be fed diets including animal by-products and preventative antibiotics, both of which can lead to “superbugs” which can infect people and are very difficult to treat. As far as the environment goes, fewer animals on more space, managed in an intentional way, is simply better for the land, the air, and the water.
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 real farm animal issues that exist in the current farming system. The simple truth is, 95% of the U.S. population eats meat, and more than 95% eat dairy and eggs (Source: Gallup Poll, 2018). This means that these animals will be raised to meet this demand, and our goal is to improve their lives by setting standards that ensure they are treated better and allowed to live more normal lives. We are happy to say that we have millions more animals raised under our program every year – click here to see the year-over-year increase. This means that every year, more and more farmers are joining our program and ensuring the welfare of their animals, and we are proud to be driving change in the farming industry this way.
With the root word of humane being “human,” why is it that we should consider animals as equal to humans?
The current definition of “humane” in the Oxford English Dictionary is “having or showing compassion or benevolence; inflicting the minimum of pain.” To be clear, we are not trying to liberate farm animals or grant them equal rights to humans. Our goal is to ensure that farm animals are raised in humane conditions, free from abnormal distress, and allowed to express their natural behaviors.
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?
We continually update our standards as new research comes to light that will improve farm animal care and facilitate the most humane methods for their production. This not only ensures that we continue to have the best standards for humane treatment, but drives continuous improvement on our currently certified farms as well.