Cruelty-free grocery shopping: Making sense of ethical labels
***originally aired on June 27, 2017***
Most consumers rely on labelling to determine what they throw into their shopping carts. But some labels can be confusing and when it comes to animal welfare, they’re not always a guarantee an animal is being treated humanely.
CTV”s Ross McLaughlin took a shopping trip with SPCA certified program manager Brandy Street to help make sense of product labels and animal treatment.
For starters, they looked at eggs.
"These labels primarily focus on housing and not on treatment," explained Street, as she showed McLaughlin two cartons of eggs, "So free run and free range are both cage free but free run is indoor housing only. Free range means they go outdoors when the weather is good."
Ninety-five-per-cent of laying hens are housed in wire cages, about the width of a single sheet of paper.
But cage-free birds are free to engage in their natural behaviours, like roosting, roaming, or simply stretching their wings.
Next up was the meat aisle. And when it comes to poultry, free run doesn’t mean anything. That’s because those chickens and turkeys are never caged.
When it comes to products labelled “natural,” Street says natural usually has nothing to do with how an animal was raised.
Natural can only be used on meat, poultry and fish products if it can be proven that the animals were raised with minimal help from humans and were never given or administered substances including vaccinations, antibiotics, medications, or formulated feeds.
It’s a claim the BC SPCA says is very difficult to make under the current Canadian labelling policies.
"I think again they're referring to the fact that no preservatives were added," said Street, as she held a package of “natural” bacon.
Another package of sausage and bacon that we checked says the animal was “humanely raised,” but Street says there were no certifications to prove that.
The BC SPCA has the only Canadian based and developed certification program to ensure animal welfare.
But the company behind the packages of 'humanely raised' meat told CTV although it doesn't do third party certification it does adhere to high standards and independent audits.
While grass fed beef is good to look out for, you may want to look out for grain finished meat.
"It's not very natural of a diet for those animals and it can cause a lot of pain for them having that rapid switch to a grain diet," explained Street.
When you’re buying organic, look for certification. While organic and free range labels don’t guarantee humane treatment, it may suggest the company is in favour of a more humane and natural treatment of animals.
Street says companies respond to consumer demands, which is why you’re seeing more of a focus on natural, organic and free range and if consumers push back on animal welfare, you may see more certification being done as well.