What exactly does it mean when food is labeled “humanely raised”? A deeper look into the term reveals a vagueness about what it actually refers to.
There is no legal definition for the term “humanely raised.” The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for upholding the accuracy of food labels, and while it defines (if incompletely in places) a host of food terms on its website, it does not explain what “humanely raised” means.
The government has a vague provision for “humane” slaughtering and handling, but it focuses on end-of-life treatment, not raising the animal. The Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act deems that “the slaughtering of livestock and the handling of livestock in connection with slaughter shall be carried out only by humane methods.” FSIS describes humane slaughtering and handling as “rapid and effective” by, among other methods that meet this requirement, “a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means.” The agency addresses the act of slaughter here, but doesn’t have a clear cut definition of handling — of what it means to raise animals humanely. With no legal definition for “humanely raised” and an incomplete description of “humane slaughter and handling” that focuses on end-of-life treatment, not treatment during an animal’s life, how are consumers to make informed decisions when buying meat and poultry?
Furthermore, the approval process for labels has been called into question. A report called “Label Confusion: How ‘Humane’ And ‘Sustainable’ Claims on Meat Packages Deceive Consumers” released last spring from the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) found that in many label claims that the institute investigated, the USDA merely approved the label based on the given company’s word. Consumers are left to wonder not only what “humanely raised” means, but if it appears on a label, if it was even properly verified.