San Francisco Chronicle : Humane Handling Taking Hold on Animal Farms

The increased public concern about animal welfare has worked its way even to the major fast-food chains, which have adopted animal-welfare guidelines that producers must follow if they want to sell beef, chicken or eggs to the biggest buyers in the country.

Starting this fall, the effort will expand, and specially trained workers will inspect even more egg, chicken and milk producers, using a groundbreaking set of voluntary guidelines developed by the livestock industry, the grocers’ Food Marketing Institute and the National Council of Chain Restaurants. Audits of pork and beef soon will follow as guidelines and training are completed.

On top of that, a small but fast-growing independent certification network has sprung up, with inspectors deciding whether animals are raised in exceptionally good conditions, slaughtered with care and, in some cases, produced on small, family-owned farms. Meat from producers who pass inspection will bear “certified humane raised and handled” labels issued by Certified Humane Farm Animal Care. Products should start showing up in some specialty markets this fall.

Down on the farm, this is big news.

“What’s different is that the methods of raising animals for food have changed so radically since the 1970s,” said Diane Halverson, farm animal adviser for the Animal Welfare Institute and a member of the McDonald’s animal welfare council.

“Industrial agriculture, based on what are essentially enormous factories filled with animals, has dominated the raising of animals. (The public has) seen animals disappear from the countryside but not known where they’ve gone.”