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The so called ‘sustainable’ meat production is on the rise, due to the increase in public awareness of ethical and environmental issues surrounding the animal agriculture industry. In an attempt to jump on board with this consumer trend, an increasing amount of companies are now selling meat labelled as ‘sustainable,’ but what does this actually mean? How can we trust the label? And does this really make the process any more ethical?

The Animal Welfare Institute conducted research on the issue and discovered that the government was unable to verify whether the feel-good labels on meat and dairy products had any resemblance to the actual conditions in which the animals lived in. This deliberate deception is not only misleading consumers who believe they are making more ethical food choices, but also contributing to the widespread myth about where meat comes from.

What the AWI Uncovered

A three-year investigation by the Animal Welfare Institute looked into companies who boasted sustainable meat production on their labels and tried to find out what assurances were in place to back up these claims. Of the 25 companies investigated, the USDA was only able to provide adequate documentation to Support the claims of five companies.

This means that there were no official documents proving that 80 percent of them were even doing what they claimed to be doing. The companies under investigation used labels such as “sustainably farmed” and “humanely raised and handled,” but it appears that the government has not been verifying these claims, meaning it is based on trust and not facts. The Animal Welfare Institute is not claiming that any of the companies investigated were guilty of wrongdoing – just that the system was open to abuse.

Many companies opt for third party certification in order to give their claims of sustainably raised meat more credibility, including: American Humane certified, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, and Food Alliance, among others.

While each of these organizations has a set of guidelines to determine the labeling, other companies are labeling their foods with terms such as ‘sustainable’ or ‘humanely raised’ for which there are no recognized industry standards.

All Meat and Dairy Labeling is Deceptive

The AWI investigation shows the labeling system is open to abuse from companies wishing to prey on consumers who are looking to eat ‘more sustainable’ meat products, but there is a much bigger issue to consider here.

The industrialized raising of animals for meat and dairy is inhumane by its very nature, and almost all food companies are guilty of using misleading advertising slogans, messages, images, and packaging. The image of ‘happy hens,’ ‘grass fed cows,’ and ‘humanely raised pigs’ are overhyped and almost certainly do not give a true reflection of the lifecycle of those animals, and companies not concerned with ‘sustainable’ farming practices opt to avoid showing images of the animals all together.

If people were to see the reality of life for the animals who end up on their plates; to see, smell, and hear what the animals have to experience, most would be put off for life.

Why else would the agricultural industry be fighting so hard to make it illegal for people to take actual footage of the inside of their operations? True transparency in meat and dairy labeling is never going to be a reality as the reality would scare customers away.

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Image source: Adam Ward/Wikimedia Commons