Doing Right by the Animals Used in Food Products Is a Costly But Worthy Business Investment
How far would you go to find humanely treated, sustainably raised cows? For me, the answer was Kilkenny, Ireland. I set out with a list of requirements in mind to fit my dream of “changing the human diet for the better,” and that is where I ended up being able to check all the boxes.
I’m not alone in my quest. Welfare of the animals used to make food products is important to consumers. According to the ASPCA, “94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty. Yet the majority of the nearly 10 billion land-based animals, plus countless more aquatic animals, farmed for food each year in the U.S. live in unacceptable conditions that do not align with consumers’ stated values.” Furthermore, a majority of Americans consume animal products. As of August 2018, Gallup found “5 percent of Americans say they are vegetarians, unchanged from 2012” and “3 percent say they are vegans, little changed from 2 percent in 2012.”
At the same time, consumers are seeking more transparency from the food brands they support. According to this recent article from Food Dive, “75 percent [of shoppers] say they'll switch to a brand that provides more in-depth product information, beyond what’s provided on the physical label. When shoppers were asked the same question in 2016, just 39 percent agreed they would switch brands.” And as consumers arm themselves with more knowledge, brands will have to stay honest about every last detail, including how their ingredients are sourced, particularly as it relates to animal welfare.
So why isn’t every company going the extra mile to seek out farms that do it the right way?
This may not be an easy ask for brands, especially those just starting out. While scouring the planet to find an acceptable dairy protein source for our products, I found that the cost of sourcing conventional dairy products was significantly less (up to 50 percent of the cost) than sourcing certified grass-fed dairy protein. The same can be said for other dairy products including butter, ghee, milk, etc. This harsh reality is particularly true in our case, since we get our dairy from overseas. Obviously it would cost us less money and present fewer challenges to source within the U.S., but these core values of sustainability and animal welfare were non-negotiable for us. While much of the dairy industry in the U.S. moved to cheaper corn and soy feed for cattle that traditionally eat the grass they graze on, countries such as Ireland kept allowing them to graze in open pastures. The added bonus is that the nutritional value and taste is better from dairy that is sourced in this manner.
In general, “grass fed” is a term without too much regulation or standardization at this point, unfortunately, so consumers prioritizing this aspect of their food cannot rely on labels alone and must dig deeper into specific brands for details about these claims. Be wary of brands advertising “100 percent grass fed” with little to no supporting evidence.
Additionally, both the farm we source from and our products have the Animal Welfare Approved seal from A Greener World (AGW). The Animal Welfare Approved Certification upholds a hard-earned standard for dairy calves and cattle which demonstrates the farmers’ commitment to the care of their animals, the land and the local community. Some standards of the certification include:
- Continuous outdoor pasture access is required for all dairy cattle.
- Close confinement in cages, crates or by tethering is prohibited.
- Abuse or maltreatment (hot branding/prods and electric shocking) of animals is prohibited.
- Newly weaned or separated calves must be kept in groups of familiar animals. The use of isolated pens is prohibited. Sale of calves to farms that have confinement, crated or slatted veal systems is prohibited.
Though the task may seem daunting, the unfortunate fact is: consumers interested in supporting animal welfare, sustainability and food free from pesticides, hormones and antibiotics need to do a little homework before voting with their dollars. It’s great to find products with “Non-GMO” or “Organic” seals, but it’s even more vital to understand the entire sourcing process of the manufacturer. These days, we have to look beyond organic, because that label doesn’t necessarily mean humane and sustainable sourcing. Though there are no certifying organizations that have branding quite as strong as the old standbys (ie: organic, Fair Trade), here are a few that consumers can start to look for when researching brands: Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World, Global Animal Partnership Step 2+, Certified Humane.
The United States has a long way to go in terms of sourcing, brand transparency and clear food labeling. For now, the best that brands and consumers can do is adhere to values supporting animal welfare and never stop the education process.