What Constitutes Humane Farm Animal Care?

Rachel Lark - April 11, 2023

We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission.

Treating animals humanely is a staple to environmentally empathetic and conscious animal welfare and husbandry. Taking attentive, respectful care of farm animals may feel like second nature to some, regardless of their destination or purpose. In reality, it’s a well-defined set of benchmarks created by the Humane Farm Animal Care nonprofit.

The organization certifies farms worldwide based on how they treat and raise their farm animals. What do these expectations look like, and how has it shaped animal care in a nation’s history with questionable practices? 

The Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) Program

In 2003, the nonprofit created the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program with specific qualifications for farmers to receive the stamp of approval. It’s motivated by a historical trend of unfair treatment of farm animals since humanity’s agricultural boon.

The nonprofit’s goal is to change the farming sector by treating farm animals more fairly, even if raised for slaughter, products including:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Egg
  • Dairy

This particular program omits fish farming. Regardless, it promotes a mindset shift that farmers should respect their animals despite their destination, giving them the best life possible. The program’s sticker is visible on companies that have met their qualifications, raising consumer awareness by motivating intentional purchasing behaviors to support more ethical farmers. 

Qualifying farms receive audits yearly from scientists and veterinarians with species-specific expertise. It’s endorsed by the ASPCA and Center for Food Safety, ensuring customers there are reputable third-party backers behind their evaluation methods. 

The Motivations Behind Change

After the agricultural revolution, populations began booming as food sources became more available. Fast forward to the modern age, and increased life expectancy and population growth exceed expectations exponentially. Farmers had to adapt to meet demand and consumption needs.

Megafarms and mass agriculture became the norm. Companies had to produce crops swiftly and grow animals that were competitive by being nutritive and plentiful. Farmers were not — and still aren’t — paid well. It drove farmers from every outfit, large and small, to resort to unethical methods to turn a profit. 

Factory farming arose from these desperate measures, perpetuating an objectification of animals. Federal regulations and governing bodies were not seeking to prioritize animal welfare which inspired nonprofits and other enterprises to take action into their hands until more powerful entities caught up to the issue’s deviousness. The change had to start from within — through marketplace solutions and leveraging community advocacy.

In the modern age, conscious consumerism is trending. Initiatives like the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program are products of consumer desires and expectations mixed with long-overdue accountability for farmers. The humane animal care movement surged until it reached household awareness, especially with the power of social media.

The Standards for Appropriate Care

The certification has a few central tenets, and more comprehensive standards arise depending on the animal type the nonprofit assesses. The core qualifications include the following:

  • Meeting Animal Care Standards for each animal from birth to slaughter.
  • Animals aren’t confined and free to roam environments naturally and safely according to their instincts.
  • The farm animals eat well and to their dietary needs. Farmers also can’t employ harmful chemicals such as growth hormones.
  • Slaughtering practices follow the North American Meat Institute Standards (NAMI).

The organization presents farmers seeking certifications with thorough standards for each animal type. For example, the 50-page document concerning turkeys explains standards for gait assessment, ventilation maintenance, and choosing genetically suitable turkeys for the farm that are not predisposed to feather-pecking. Here are other examples of what the organization looks out for when assessing humane animal care:

  • Training stock dogs to ensure cattle safety and comfort.
  • Broilers must have detailed animal health plans (AHPs) detailing vaccination history and flock performance.
  • Laying hens must have housing with enough exit paths, at least one route every 50 feet.
  • Farms must have segregation pens for sick or diseased to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Bison must score well on a body condition scale that analyzes rib visibility, weight, and muscle density.

The association’s animal experts provide farms with a humane care deep-dive that’s all-encompassing, demonstrating their commitment to high benchmarks and exceptional animal husbandry. They also have resources for farmers who want to compare the Humane certification with other compliances like USDA’s Organic program.

The Advantages of Humane Farm Animal Care

Humans should want to treat their animals well, because their happiness is important. Having content animals that live wholesome lives should be enough of an advantage to pursue humane farm animal care practices. Thankfully, those who need more convincing reap benefits from happier animals. HFAC standards also remove chemicals from diets that could alter the meat’s flavor.

Animals with a high quality of life increase farms’ bottom lines because the product tastes better. Blind taste tests prove ethically raised meat has a less gamey flavor because there’s less cortisol upon slaughter. Humane slaughter standards, including stress-reduction techniques like blue lamps for relaxing poultry, help control these reactions. Better-tasting products lead to brand loyalty, free word-of-mouth and social media advertising, and repeat customers.

HFAC-certified businesses also obtain free advertising from being approved. The organization promotes quality farms worldwide, and it’s advantageous to bank on the positive publicity in as many avenues as possible. With grocery shoppers making more intentional choices about what brands they support, profits could increase because of the humane-certified mark alone. Raising animals humanely provides a competitive advantage. 

Lastly, humane practices reduce farms’ carbon footprints. Animal cruelty has a more noticeable adverse impact on the environment by causing more pollution in the air and water, spreading disease to animals damaging habitats and biodiversity, and creating more food and water waste.

Raising Animals to Live Happier and Healthier

Though some may oppose consuming animal products altogether, it’s possible to encourage humane animal care on farms. The animals deserve to live fulfilling lives just as much as the farmers tending to them, and a cultural shift must change species superiority to better distribute respect among animals. In conjunction with advocacy, more widespread change should come from regulating bodies to provide more guidelines on animal rights to set ethical precedents for the future.

Share on

Like what you read? Join other readers!

Get the latest updates on our planet by subscribing to the newsletter!

About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.