Wandering about the office a few days ago, I found something useful atop the water cooler: a little business card from the World Society for the Protection of Animals. The card advertises the WSPA website, promoting ethical treatment of animals and identifying “humane” treatment through meaningful food labeling. The labels in question apply to dairy, poultry of various varieties, beef, bison, rabbit, lamb, and pork.
Part of NGI’s mission is to teach health-supportive cooking – and we recognize for some people that means eating meat, poultry, or fish. While our professional and public classes emphasize and showcase mostly plant-based cuisine, high-quality animal protein is occasionally prepared. Part of what we deem “quality” at the school includes the most humane treatment possible for the animals in question. That treatment includes, among other things, meaningful access to pasture or outdoors, space to engage in natural behaviors, humane slaughter, and a clean living environment.
We have a sizable contingent of committed vegan and vegetarian students at the school for whom humane treatment would mean not raising animals for slaughter or consumption. Eating animals, however, has and will endure as a way of life. In this context, humane labels are a meaningful step toward bettering the lives of animals raised for slaughter. So too is an examination of the quantity of meat and poultry we produce and consume in the US. Check out the WSPA website’s article, “Consider Reducing Meat in Your Diet,” for some disturbing statistics.
The site provides a search engine for locating animal-friendly foods at local stores and restaurants as well as free consumer guide downloads and pocket guides. Most importantly, it clarifies the meanings of various “humane” food labels. Not all so-called humane food labels represent the highest standard of treatment. The USDA definition of “free range,” for example, is vague enough to allow industrial producers to continue many of the most inhumane, sometimes brutal practices. The highest labeling standards, according to the site, are “Certified Humane,” “American Humane Certified,” and “Animal Welfare Approved.”
There’s also a useful Glossary of Terms, which explains the particulars of the more inhumane practices associated with commercial meat and poultry production. In short, I think this site performs a much-needed service: educating the consumer to make better – in this case, most humane – choices.