Whole Foods is in hot water. On January 8, 2015, animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere released a disturbing video documenting a month long investigation conducted at Petaluma Farms, a laying hen farm that sells its eggs under the “Certified Humane” label at various retailers, including Whole Foods.
“Certified Humane” is a program administered by Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), a nonprofit organization that claims that “When you see the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label on a product you can be assured that the food products have come from facilities that meet precise, objective standards for farm animal treatment.” Under this program, farmers apply for certification and then HFAC employees inspect their farms. If a farm meets the “Certified Humane” standards, farmers pay a yearly fee in order to be certified and are then allowed to use the coveted “Certified Humane” label on their products.
Following the release of the recent Direct Action Everywhere video, the animal agriculture industry vehemently argued that the troubling scenes depicted in the video are not indicative of the “Certified Humane” program at large. While the industry and retail giants like Whole Foods tout the “Certified Humane” program as a way to ensure that consumers are purchasing “happy” meat, dairy, and eggs, a closer look at the “Certified Humane” standards reveal that a number of terribly cruel and inhumane practices are still allowed even on these “humane” farms.
Here are 5 examples of cruel practices that are allowed at “Certified Humane” chicken farms like the one depicted in the Direct Action Everywhere video.
1. No Requirement for Outdoor Access
Most consumers who spend extra money to purchase “Certified Humane” products probably believe that when they buy chicken or eggs from a certified farm, those chickens spent the majority of their lives outdoors. In fact, “Certified Humane” standards do not require any outdoor access for either laying or broiler chickens. This means that chicken and eggs sold under the “Certified Humane” label may literally have never stepped outside or seen the sun in their entire lives.
2. Inhumane Methods of Euthanasia
The poor conditions on these chicken farms often result in sick or injured birds who will not survive to slaughter. Farmers want a quick and cheap way to dispose of these spent animals who are no longer profitable. The “Certified Humane” solution? Neck snapping, a shocking method of euthanasia that involves pulling a chicken’s neck until her spinal cord snaps. It is highly unlikely that the average “Certified Humane” consumer would find this practice humane.
3. Extreme Overcrowding
“Certified Humane” proudly advertises the fact that battery cages are not allowed under its standards. Battery cages typically hold five to 10 chickens in a space the size of an iPad. These cages are terribly cruel, so this is an improvement over the conditions in which most laying hens spend their lives. However, a ban on battery cages does not ensure that chickens have enough space to live a comfortable life.
“Certified Humane” standards still allow for terrible overcrowding, made worse when animals are denied outdoor access. For example, depending on the type of facility, laying hens on “Certified Humane” farms must only be provided with between one to one and a half square feet of space per hen. This is hardly enough space for the hens to be even reasonably comfortable, and so overcrowding remains a serious problem, even on certified farms.
4. Beak Trimming
“Certified Humane” standards state that debeaking is absolutely not allowed on “Certified Humane” farms. However, because laying hen facilities are typically overcrowded, hens often engage in unnatural, stress-related behavior such as pecking and cannibalism. The “Certified Humane” solution? Beak trimming, which the industry claims is different from debeaking because it allegedly removes less of the beak. Whatever you call it, this practice still allows for removal of part of a hen’s extremely sensitive and essential beak.
5. Same Cruel Methods of Slaughter
No matter how humanely “Certified Humane” chickens are treated during their lives, they all still end up at the slaughterhouse with all of the other non-“Certified Humane” chickens in the industry. It’s hard to argue that slaughtering a helpless and sentient animal in order to eat its body when healthy alternatives exist can ever be considered truly humane. What is certainly not humane is the “Certified Humane” endorsed slaughter process, which allows various horrors such as electrical water stunning baths, in which chickens are shackled upside down by their legs and then lowered into electrical water baths designed to render them unconscious. The problem is that these baths are notoriously ineffective, and often send fully conscious birds to slaughter.
Humane? Not Quite
Consumers today are increasingly concerned with where their food comes from, something that the animal agriculture industry knows very well. “Certified Humane” is one of a growing number of programs that profit from convincing these consumers that they are paying for humanely raised and killed animal products. Sadly, this program is endorsed by nearly 70 animal welfare organizations, a fact that HFAC is quick to advertise.
The truth is that “Certified Humane” standards still allow for a number of extremely cruel practices, particularly on chicken farms. A lack of outdoor access, cruel euthanasia, overcrowding, beak trimming, and terrifying methods of slaughter show that “Certified Humane” is anything but. It’s vital for activists such as Direct Action Everywhere to continue to expose the truth about these programs so that consumers know exactly what they are supporting when they pick up a “Certified Humane” animal product.
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