Together with the Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recently released a new tool for farmers hoping to adapt or learn more about animal welfare certifications: the Farm Animal Welfare Certification Guide.
The guide helps farmers, food companies, restaurant owners, and chefs sourcing animal products understand the three most significant welfare certification programs: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane®, and Global Animal Partnership. The guide compares the processes and standards required by each program, presents six candid farmer case studies, and outlines the funding options available to farmers who are investing in animal welfare.
Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Kara Shannon, the manager of the Farm Animal Welfare program, about the guide and how the certifications described a triple-win solution for farmers, animals, and consumers.
FT: The Farm Animal Welfare Certification Guide has three different certifications: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, and Global Animal Partnership. Which certificate is the most popular among farmers versus consumers, and why? If the popularity is different between farmers and consumers, why do you think there are differences?
KS: The three certifications covered in the guide represent a spectrum of higher-welfare ways to raise farm animals, from indoor-enriched systems to outdoor, pasture-based systems. Welfare certification is a small but growing section of the marketplace. At this point, the popularity of a certification with a consumer or farmer mostly has to do with availability at retail and suitability for a particular farm operation.
Generally, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) farmers tend to sell their products direct to consumer, on a farm, at farmers markets, or through CSAs. Accordingly, you’re likely to find AWA products in smaller co-ops or specialty grocery stores. Certified Humane (CH), on the other hand, is more widely available in major retail stores and therefore sometimes more easily recognized by consumers who have seen CH products in the store before. Similarly, the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) program is more readily understood by consumers who regularly shop at Whole Foods because of Whole Foods’ sourcing policy which requires meat producers to be GAP-certified.
All three certifications continue to add more farms and animals to their program every year, so it’s safe to say that each is certainly growing in popularity!
FT: What are the greatest benefits farmers will see from one of these certifications?
KS: These certifications can offer farmers, as well as animals and consumers, a lot of benefits. We refer to this in the guide as the “triple-win.” Animals win because the certification standards mandate a higher quality of life, allowing animals to carry out natural behaviors free from the cruelest confinement systems found on many conventional farms. Consumers win because they can easily identify welfare-certified products, allowing them to shop in line with their values. For farmers, certification can offer the ability to communicate higher welfare standards in a clear, verifiable manner and enter into a rapidly growing market that offers more dependable, premium prices for their products. We know that consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and are willing to pay more for food that has been welfare-certified. Seventy-four percent of consumers surveyed by the ASPCA are paying more attention to welfare-related labels today than they were just five years ago. We’re seeing more companies, food service providers, retailers, and institutions committing to sourcing welfare-certified products, including well-known players like Panera Bread, Sodexo, and Au Bon Pain. Welfare certification gives higher-welfare farmers increased access to these consumers and companies, which can ultimately benefit animals, farmers, and consumers.
FT: What is one of your favorite case studies in the Guide and why?
KS: It’s really difficult to pick just one because all the case studies provide a unique look into welfare-certified farming. One common thread we saw running through all the farm stories was how farmers maintain that certification helped them gain access to new markets by formalizing the higher-welfare standards they say they were already using for their animals. Also, when improvements were necessary, farmers maintained that there was a return on that investment. Gabe Clark at Cold Spring Ranch explained that the barrier to certification is often just a lack of “knowledge of opportunities and the potential benefits.” Gabe’s case study illustrates all the ways he believes attaining GAP Step 4 certification has benefited his farm and his partner farms by creating opportunities and access to new markets that he says offer double-digit premiums. The same theme appeared in many of our other case studies, including Animal Welfare Approved Kinderhook Farm and Certified Humane Pete and Gerry’s Ward Family Farm, who both felt that certification ultimately benefitted their farms and their animals.
FT: What advice can you give farmers who are interested in obtaining one of the certifications?
KS: I would suggest that any farmer interested in becoming welfare-certified take the time to carefully review all three certifications to become familiar with the requirements for each and determine which would work best for their animals and their farm. Every farm is unique, and the three certifications in the guide have different standards representing a spectrum of welfare and ultimately offering different market incentives. For example, farmers looking to enter larger markets like Whole Foods may want to look more closely at GAP and Certified Humane since these certifications are more readily available in larger retailers than Animal Welfare Approved. Animal Welfare Approved might be a better fit for small, pasture-based farms wanting to verify their practices and increase their visibility with welfare-conscious consumers. Taking the time to compare the programs and learn from the experiences of other welfare-certified farmers can help farmers figure out which certification may be suitable for their animals and their farm.
FT: What resources are available through the Guide that supports welfare certification transition efforts?
KS: The ASPCA wanted this guide to help farmers assess and compare independent welfare certification programs. It provides a side-by-side comparison of certification programs across key administrative criteria as well as standards comparison charts, organized by species, which highlight the range of higher-welfare standards required by the different certifications. Additionally, the case studies illustrate how other farmers have integrated welfare certification into their businesses.
It was also really important to us that the guide not just spells out the key differences and requirements of the three certification programs, but also provide resources to support the efforts of higher welfare farmers who were investing in welfare certification. Accordingly, we included a section that identifies some private organizations that support higher welfare farming and examples of state and federal funding programs that support more sustainable, pasture-based farming systems for which many welfare-certified farmers would likely qualify.
Prior to the release of the guide, the ASPCA gave a grant to the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT)—one of the funding organizations already listed in the guide—to create a grant program specifically for farmers transitioning to welfare-certified systems. Last month, FACT announced the grant recipients, with nine farms from across the country receiving grants from this new Animal Welfare Certification grant program. We hope that as more people begin to understand the potential value of welfare-certification for animals, farmers, and consumers, we’ll see more and more public and private funding being allocated to support higher welfare farmers that choose to become welfare-certified.