Farmed Animal Welfare: Standards and Certifications

April 8, 2021Zihao Yu


Farmed animals receive less attention and protection compared to companion animals. There are laws and regulations in different countries and regions on farmed animal welfare. Besides, industrial associations and third-party organizations have their own recommended standards and certifications. The welfare standards include the requirements for the procedures of breeding, raising, handling, processing, transportation, and slaughtering.

The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare

“The Five Freedoms” of Animal Welfare were originally put forward by the United Kingdom (UK) Farm Animal Welfare Council in 2009, now the Farm Animal Welfare Committee.

The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst, by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor;

  2. Freedom from discomfort, by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;

  3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;

  4. Freedom to express normal behavior, by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and a company of the animal’s own kind; and

  5. Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering.

These Five Freedoms are globally recognized as the gold standard in animal welfare, encompassing both the mental and physical well-being of animals.

Two Brown Cow on Grass Field by Min An from Pexels

U.S. laws

The Animal Welfare Act of the United States does not cover farm animals: “such term excludes… other farm animals, such as but not limited to livestock or poultry, used or intended for use as food or fiber, or livestock or poultry used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber” (§2132 (g), Animal Welfare Act). The only laws on farmed animals at the federal level are the Twenty-Eight Hour Law (49 USC, §80502) for transportation of animals, and the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act (7 USC, §1901-1907) for slaughter.

At the state level, the majority of U.S. states expressly exempt farm animals from their anti-cruelty provisions making it impossible for protection on farmed animals. A few states include farmed animals in the anti-cruelty provisions.

International standards

Guiding Principles for Animal Welfare by OIE - World Organization for Animal Health

The OIE – World Organization for Animal Health as an intergovernmental organization, has a global mandate to improve animal health, animal welfare, and veterinary public health. OIE has the standards for Animal Welfare of terrestrial animals in the Terrestrial Animal Health Code. In this Code, transportation of animals, slaughter, killing for disease control, and the animal welfare of beef cattle, broiler chicken, dairy cattle, and pigs are covered.

General considerations are: “Animal welfare means the physical and mental state of an animal in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies. An animal experiences good welfare if the animal is healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress, and is able to express behaviors that are important for its physical and mental state. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and appropriate veterinary care, shelter, management and nutrition, a stimulating and safe environment, humane handling, and humane slaughter or killing. While animal welfare refers to the state of the animal, the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.” (Article 7.1.1) Besides, the Aquatic Animal Health Code 2019 provides the welfare of farmed fishes. (Section 7) Read more here.

Good Practice Note by International Finance Corporation (IFC)

The Good Practice Note contributes to IFC's continued commitment to supporting clients in a responsible and forward-looking approach to traditional livestock production (dairy, beef, broiler chickens, layer chickens, pigs, and ducks) and aquaculture in intensive and extensive systems to, among other things, help producers access and maintain entry to high quality and value market segments. The GPN includes details for Good Management Practices in Animal Welfare, which include genetics and breed selection, animal health, animal husbandry practice, stockmanship, quality assurance programs, feed and water, housing systems, transportation, slaughter, and aquaculture. Read more here.

Guidelines by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Humane Society International

Guidelines for the Humane Handling, Transport and Slaughter of Livestock was published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Humane Society International (HIS) in 2001. Livestock will refer mainly to animals from which meat is produced such as cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, poultry, and ostriches. Other slaughter animals of relevance in particular in developing countries are buffaloes, camels, and rabbits. The guidelines cover the procedures of handling and loading on the farm, transport to the market, pens or slaughterhouse, off-loading and holding, and finally slaughter. Read more here.

Industry guidelines

Each farmed animal species is covered by different industry guidelines in different countries. Taking the United States as an example:

  • Beef cattle welfare is regulated in the National Manual, 2019, Supplemental Guidelines, 2014 by Beef Quality Assurance;

  • Dairy cattle welfare is regulated in the Animal Care Reference Manual, 2017 by National Dairy FARM Program;

  • Sheep welfare is regulated in the Sheep Care Guide, 2017 by American Sheep Industry Association;

  • Pig welfare is regulated in the Common Swine Industry Audit, 2018 by National Pork Board;

  • Egg-laying hen welfare is regulated in the Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg-Laying Flocks, 2017 by United Egg Producers;

  • Meat chicken welfare is regulated in the Animal Welfare Guidelines & Audit Checklist for Broilers, 2017 by National Chicken Council;

  • Meat turkey welfare is regulated in the Animal Care Guidelines, 2016 by National Turkey Federation.

Selective Focus Photography of Rooster in Cage by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Third-party certification

Certified Humane standards by The Humane Farm Animal Care

The Humane Farm Animal Care Standards incorporate scientific research, veterinary advice, and the practical experience of farmers. Animal Care of the Humane Farm Animal Care Standards covers the process of raising, handling, and processing, transporting, and slaughtering for the farmed animals of beef cattle, chickens (broilers), egg-laying hens, dairy cows, goats (dairy, fiber, and meat), sheep (including dairy sheep), pigs, turkeys, bison, young dairy beef, red deer.

The standards include requirements on nutrition – food and water, environment, management, health, transportation, processing (for some species), and slaughter. Their mission is to improve the welfare of farm animals by providing viable, credible, duly monitored standards for humane food production and ensuring consumers that certified products meet these standards. Read more here.

Animal Welfare Certified program by the Global Animal Partnership

The Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) defines animal welfare as “health & productivity,” “natural living,” and “Emotional Well Being.” They provide standards for farmed animals of beef cattle, bison, chickens, goats, laying hens, pigs, sheep, and turkeys. They set the baseline for all certifications then provide 6 levels of different certifications (Base Certification, Environmental Enrichment, Outdoor Access, Pasture Raised, Animal Centered, and Entire Life on Farm) for different levels of farmed animal welfare. Read more here.

American Humane Certified by American Humane

“American Humane created the first welfare certification program in the United States to help ensure the humane treatment of farm animals. The American Humane Certified™ program provides third-party, independent audits to help verify that certified producers’ care and handling of farm animals meet the science-based animal welfare standards of American Humane. The program provides ongoing outreach to farmers in the implementation of the best humane practices for animals.”

They provide the standards that are based upon the guiding principles of the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, on beef cattle, broiler chickens, dairy cattle, swine, turkey, and laying hens. Read more here.

Responsible Minimum Standards by the FARMS Initiative

The FARMS Initiative’s goal is for financial institutions to encourage and support meat, milk and egg producers, and other companies in the supply chain, towards meeting the Responsible Minimum Standards with respect to how farm animals are raised, transported, and slaughtered.

The Responsible Minimum Standards are based on a range of international frameworks and standards on animal welfare including the widely recognized Five Freedoms, the OIE’s Chapter on animal welfare in its Terrestrial Animal Health Code, EU legislation, and the IFC’s Good Practice Note.

The Responsible Minimum Standards (RMS) cover five farmed animals: beef cattle, chickens raised for meat, dairy cattle, laying hens, and pigs. Read more here.

Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Green World

“A Greener World (AGW) has the most rigorous standards for farm animal welfare and environmental sustainability across the globe.” The Certified Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) by AGW standards are designed to maximize practicable, high-welfare farm management with the environment in mind. The AWA Standards cover all major farmed livestock and poultry including beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, dairy sheep, goats, dairy goats, laying hens, meat chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and bison (the only additional species). Their standard (1) requires animals to be raised on pasture or range, (2) prohibits dual production, (3) awards approval only to independent farmers, and (4) incorporates the most comprehensive standards for high welfare farming. Read more here.

Consumer's Guide by the Animal Welfare Institute

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) provides A Consumer's Guide to Food Labels and Animal Welfare. The guide divides most labels into four categories with different levels of recommendation for consumers. Read more here.

  • BEST CHOICES are labels that feature the highest animal care standards, and compliance is verified by a third-party auditing program.

  • NEXT BEST CHOICES are labels that typically feature lower animal care standards, but compliance is verified by a second party (such as a trade association) or independent third-party certification program.

  • FAIR CHOICES are labels that are relevant to animal welfare, but standards are weak, and/or compliance is not verified on the farm by a third-party audit. In some cases, the level of animal welfare can range from very low to very high for different products with the same label.

  • BEWARE OF THESE LABELS are labels that are meaningless or misleading with regard to animal welfare. They may not be meaningless or misleading for other purposes.

AWI also provides A Comparison of Industry Guidelines and Independent Labels on Animal Welfare Standards. Read more here.

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