Varieties of “humane”

From Grist, a run-down of the various schemes to label meat and other animal products as “humane” or its equivalent. Some key points:

– There are no legally enforced definitions of “humane” (the same holds for “all-natural,” “sustainable,” “cage-free,” etc.); only products labeled “organic” are legally required to meet certain standards.

– There are both industry-produced and independent schemes for determining if producers meet certain standards. Industry-led programs typically have no third-party audits to ensure compliance.

– Even the independent third-party standards (e.g., Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane) vary widely in the specific requirements they make. For instance, in the case of laying hens, whether access to outdoor space is required or debeaking is prohibited.

At times, I wonder if all this futzing around with labeling schemes is merely tinkering with the machinery of death (to borrow a phrase from Supreme Court justice Harry A. Blackmun) and whether the only sensible policy is strict vegetarianism. On the other hand, I’m as guilty as anyone: I buy “cage-free” eggs and feel better about myself, even though I really have no idea how the birds are treated. Either way, there are good reasons to be concerned with what the article calls “humane-washing” and, if we’re concerned about animal well-being, to make sure that these kinds of labeling programs have teeth.

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