Certified Humane with Adele Douglass
Animal welfare affects the entire meat industry, and is often not understood by consumers. In this interview, Adele Douglass addresses what it means to be "certified humane" and how this label distinguishes itself from conventional livestock practices. She explains how she became involved with the issue and describes the economic benefits of this certification.
Douglas Gayeton: What made you become interested in the humane treatment of farm animals?
Adele Douglas: I was asked to be on a committee that was rewriting the Ag Guide, a guide for the use of agricultural animals in research and teaching. The first time I saw a gestating sow in a stall, or laying hens stuffed in cages, I was absolutely stunned. My first reaction was “I am sure that I am not the only one who doesn’t have a clue. I can’t believe that in all these years I had no idea and I think most consumers have no idea either.” I thought, “Somebody has to do something about this.” So I started the organization.
Adele: We have a lot of organic producers that are Certified Humane and there are non-GMO producers that are also Certified Humane. Organic is about agricultural inputs and what the animals eat. There are no slaughter standards in Organic; it’s concerned with what chemicals are used in the slaughter plant. Non-GMO is concerned with feed. The certifications actually complement one another.
Douglas: Have you had any success working with industrial agriculture?
Adele: The biggest success we had was working with Safeway. Four years ago, Safeway contracted us, wanting their Cage Free and Organic eggs to be "Certified Humane." It took four years to achieve. Some of their farmers were dragged into the process kicking and screaming because they didn’t want to change their operations in order to meet our program. The egg producers said to us, “We have to build perches and add dust bathing areas. That’s inconvenient and going to cost us money.” Space is another expressed issue. Even though the chickens live cage-free, we have a space requirement preventing overcrowding in barns. Because of the space requirement, producers may have to start stocking less birds. Which gets them thinking, “If I have less birds, it’s going to be less money.” That’s where they were coming from. Safeway won in the end. We did an announcement at the end of December that all of Safeway's Cage Free and Organic eggs are Certified Humane across the country.
Douglas: Starting in the late 1940s, we saw a cultural shift where food began to be treated as a commodity. Does Humane Farm Animal Care make good sense business-wise?
Adele: It does. First of all, when you raise the animals right, you don’t have to give them antibiotics since their immune systems are not stressed and they’re not getting sick. When you’re not spending money on antibiotics, and your animals are not getting sick, you have better production. There’s a whole misconception that if you raise them the right way, it’s going to cost you more. For example, raising pigs outdoors is cheaper than having barns full of gestation stalls.
Douglas: How can we contribute to a more sustainable food system simply by how we care for the animals that we keep?
Adele: Our standards are written to meet the physiological and behavioral needs of the animal. So that’s the number one way to contribute: meet our standards beyond our program. Another way is for consumers to buy products that are Certified Humane because that rewards the farmers and tells the retailers that they’re not going to get away with just going anywhere to buy cheap food. This lets consumers vote with their wallets.