Some farmers provide their animals with room to root, roam and roost, but the majority of eggs, meat and dairy products sold in the United States come from factory farms, where animals are kept tightly confined in spaces barely larger than their bodies. They are never allowed to express their natural behaviors and are subjected throughout their short lives to other cruel treatment, such as debeaking without pain relief. Gestation crates confine mother pigs so tightly they cannot turn around. Chickens crammed into cages can barely move and are unable to extend their wings. Veal crates essentially immobilize baby cows until they’re ready for slaughter.

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International are fighting to end the use of gestation crates for pigs, cages for egg-laying hens and veal crates for calves in the United States and around the world. But we can’t do it alone.

Read on to learn how you can help.

How we fight for farm animals

Pigs in gestation crates

The HSUS and HSI work with global food service providers and industry leaders to eliminate extreme confinement from their supply chains. Our campaigns have led to a growing number of states—such as California, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon—eliminating these confinement cages as well as the sale of products that come from these practices. The chart below shows the difference between the industry standard and more humane housing for farm animals. These changes will vastly improve the lives of hundreds of millions of animals each year.


Industry standards vs. more humane housing

Diagram showing different types of housing that animals are kept in in the food industry
  1. Gestation crates: Mother pigs are unable to socialize or even turn around. They’re so tightly confined, when they lie down to sleep, their udders protrude into neighboring crates.
  2. Group housing: Pigs have room to walk around in common areas and are free to socialize and display natural behaviors. Some types of group housing only use stalls for sows to feed and rest.
  3. Hen cages: Cages house five to 10 birds each, confining hens so tightly they can barely move, let alone turn around or spread their wings. Hens live their entire lives on barren wire.
  4. Cage-free housing: Cage-free systems allow hens to spread their wings, take “dust baths” on the floor, lay their eggs in nests and fly up to roost off the ground for security at night.
  5. Veal crates: Veal crates are barely larger than the calves’ bodies. Calves are often chained by the neck and can’t turn around, walk, play together, lie down comfortably or breathe fresh air.
  6. Group housing: Group pens allow the calves to stretch, lie down, groom themselves and socialize with other calves. These barns often receive natural sunlight and have year-round ventilation.

Photo illustration of food labels on eggs

What do food labels mean for animal welfare?

Confused by animal welfare claims on products at the grocery store? You’re not alone. More and more people are paying close attention to food labels. Unfortunately, the terms can be confusing, sometimes purposefully to convey the animals are treated more humanely than they actually are. As the HSUS fights to improve the lives of farm animals, we want to help educate consumers about how many of these animals are raised. So, what do those labels actually mean?

What the labels on animal products really mean—and what they don’t

Here are some of the most common terms and what they mean for animal welfare

Seal of approval iconCertified Humane* The standards required under this program provide meaningful improvements over factory farms for how much space animals must be provided, as well as the quality of bedding material and enrichments. Animals are never confined in cages or crates and are free to display natural behaviors. They are not given growth hormones or antibiotics.

Earth iconGlobal Animal Partnership* This multiple-tier animal welfare program reflects stricter standards as the level number rises on a scale of 1 to 5. All levels prohibit the caging of animals and the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, and levels 2-5 require environmental enrichments such as perches for egg-laying hens. The higher the number, the better the living conditions are for the animals.

Leaves iconUSDA Organic* Animals are provided with outdoor access, are raised in slightly more space than typical factory farms, eat organic feed and are not given hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. This seal does not tell a consumer anything about certain welfare concerns such as routine mutilations (castration, etc.) without pain relief.

Grass iconUSDA Certified Grass Fed* Animals have unlimited outdoor access during the growing season and can only eat grass and forage, with the exception of milk before weaning. This term does not provide guidelines for other aspects of animal welfare, such as confinement outside of the growing season or the use of antibiotics and hormones.

Pasture iconPasture-raised Animals have continuous free access to the outdoors for a minimum of 120 days a year. The term does not define any standards for how much space each animal should be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals.

Sun iconFree-range Animals are given access to the outdoors. The term does not define any standards for how much space per animal, frequency or duration of how much outdoor access must be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals.

Eggs iconCage-Free On eggs, this term means chickens can move freely indoors with unlimited access to food and water during their production cycle. It does not define how much space each bird is provided unless accompanied by a third-party seal such as Certified Humane.

Pig iconHumanely raised The USDA does not define this term, so it has little relevance unless accompanied by a seal from a third-party program.

Chick iconNatural and naturally raised These label terms are not regulated and do not accurately convey anything about animal welfare.

Carrot iconVegetarian-fed This term does not convey anything about animal welfare.

Cow iconHormone-Free, rBGH-Free, rBST-Free and No Hormones Added These labels on dairy products mean the cows were not given artificial hormones to increase milk production. These practices do not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions, and they are not relevant for chicken, eggs or pork, as producers are not legally allowed to use hormones.

*Verified by independent auditors

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How you can help

  • Add more plant-based meals to your diet to help reduce the demand for animal products.
  • As you’re reducing your meat consumption, make sure any animal products you do purchase come from companies or local farmers who use higher welfare practices.
  • Share this article with others to help spread awareness about farm animal welfare.
  • Support our work by donating.

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This was written and produced by the team behind All Animals, our award-winning magazine. Each issue is packed with inspiring stories about how we are changing the world for animals together.

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