With heightened attention about the treatment of the animals we eat, many consumers are opting to buy "humanely raised" meats. These animals are supposed to be treated fairly throughout their lifetime, and this humane meat is usually more expensive than regular meat. Is it worth the price?
How to Find Humanely Raised Meat
Marketers have responded to the desires of consumers by adding pleasant-sounding labels to meat packages. Labels make claims like "natural," "stress-free," and "humanely raised." Unfortunately, many of these terms lack official definitions, and there are few organizations that verify farms are actually living up to their claims.
For example, "natural" is a USDA definition that only involves the way meat is handled after the animal's death. A farm could claim animals were raised "stress-free," but that doesn't always mean the meat was raised humanely.
Labels to Look For
Look for Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and American Humane Certified (AHC) stickers on meats. Both of these stickers mean that a certification organization has personally inspected farm conditions, and the farm has met or exceeded humane animal treatment criteria. The AHC stickers are slightly less meaningful because that organization's standards are a little more relaxed.
All meat at Whole Foods grocery stores meets the Global Animal Partnership (a Whole Foods backed organization) standards. Although each label has different criteria, they all mean that the meat has been certified to live in better conditions than the average farm animal.
Is it Worth It?
Certainly, knowing that animals are being treated fairly is worth a little extra expense, but it's important to make sure that the labels actually mean something, rather than just being an excuse to charge more. There are some farms that have never applied for any certifications although they are known for treating animals humanely. Various consumer reporting groups offer guidance to help shoppers find humane meat, with or without certifications.