Is the label verified?
Yes
Is the meaning of the label consistent?
Partially
Are the label standards publicly available?
Yes
Is information about the organization publicly available?
Yes
Is the organization free from conflict of interest?
Unknown
Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
Yes

This label can be found on: Beef, chicken, pork, turkey, sheep, goat, bison

ORGANIZATION: Global Animal Partnership

url: www.globalanimalpartnership.org

LABEL STANDARDSwww.globalanimalpartnership.org/5-step-animal-welfare-rating-program/standards

 

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What this label means

The label means that the animals were raised on farms that were verified to meet the farm animal welfare standards of Global Animal Partnership, a non-profit organization that says it “promotes and facilitates continuous improvement in animal agriculture, encourages animal welfare friendly farming practices, and informs consumers about the animal farming systems they choose to support.”

The Global Animal Partnership program uses six tiers, or steps, that each represent a different set of standards for how animals are raised on the farm. The step level that is achieved is indicated on the label. Step 1 is the lowest rating and Step 5+ is the highest rating. Higher step levels signify that higher standards of animal welfare were met.

For Step 1, the claim on the label is “no cages, no crates, no crowding.”

In our analysis, we found that Step 1 standards accommodate farms that confine pigs and chickens indoors and do not provide materials to allow the animals to engage in natural behaviors. The indoor space requirements only slightly exceed the industry norm. For beef, Step 1 reflects the industry norm of raising beef cattle on range or pasture for the first part of the animal’s life and then on a feedlot for the last portion of the animal’s life.

There are some benefits to Step 1 certification; for example, the standards for all step levels set limits on indoor ammonia levels, prohibit routine drug use, prohibit animal waste products in feed, and prohibit routine tail docking of pigs.

Below, we take a closer look at some of the requirements in the standards, for some of the species that can be certified (chicken, pork and beef).

Note that this summary does not cover all the requirements in the standards; to read the standards in their entirety, click on the link to the standards (above).

 

A closer look at the standards for broilers (chicken) 

Indoor space per bird

The Step 1 indoor space requirement for a chicken is roughly 10.2 inches by 10 inches for a 5-pound bird* (or 0.71 ft2 per bird; the standards state that the stocking density should not exceed 7.0 pounds of chicken per square foot). This is a 5.9% increase over the industry norm and therefore a slight improvement over the industry norm which gives each 5-pound chicken roughly 9.6 inches by 10 inches (0.67 ft2).

* GAP calculates the space requirements based on the stocking density, which GAP defines as the final target weight of all chickens/turkeys per flock per area at the time of herding and loading. For comparison, we calculate the approximate area given to a bird based on a final weight of 5 pounds. While the birds are small and growing, they would still be given the minimum space based on their full-grown weight.

In terms of the housing space, the standards state that chickens must be given enough space to express natural behaviors which includes standing, turning around, and preening (straightening and cleaning its feathers with its beak) without touching another bird but do not specify that chickens must be able to walk around freely.

Clean litter

The standards for clean litter are the same for all step levels. Floors of all houses, including mobile houses that are stationary for more than 3 days, must be covered with non-toxic, fibrous, and friable litter. Only up to 12 inches in width of caked litter would be allowed directly under water lines. Litter must be of quality and quantity to provide a comfortable environment and allow for dustbathing behavior. This requirement exceeds the industry norm.

Indoor air / Ammonia levels

The standards for ammonia are the same for all step levels. The standards state that an intervention plan designed to improve air quality must be implemented immediately if air quality levels exceed 20 ppm or a score of 2 on Global Animal Partnership’s air quality scale, which allows producers to use sensory evaluation to determine whether they should take action. On this scale, a score of 2 means the producer rates the odor as “distinct” and experiences watery eyes and/or coughing (the human nose can detect the smell of ammonia at around 5 ppm).

Lighting

The standards for Step 1 require a daily minimum of 6 hours of continuous darkness throughout their lives. This exceeds the industry norm of providing only 4 hours of continuous darkness per 24-hour cycle after the first four weeks of life. This applies to Step 2 as well; higher step levels are provided longer periods of darkness at night.

Indoor environmental enrichment

No indoor environmental enrichment is required for Step 1; enrichment is required for higher step levels. This means the GAP Step 1 standards do not exceed the industry norm of raising chickens in buildings without materials that allow chickens to engage in natural behaviors.

Outdoor access

Outdoor access is not required for Step 1 and the birds can be continually confined indoors. Outdoor access is required starting at Step 3.

Genetics and better breeds / limit on fast growth

For all step levels, breeds/lines must be chosen for good leg health and for low levels of mortality.* There is no limit on the rate of growth. This slightly exceeds the industry norm of using chickens that have been bred for rapid growth at the expense of the bird’s health and welfare.

* The standards specify what would be considered a “low level of mortality.” For Step 1-3, an intervention plan has to be implemented if flock mortality exceeds 0.5% in a 24-hour period.

Slaughter

There are no slaughter standards for chickens, for any of the step levels.

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A closer look at the standards for pigs (pork)

Indoor space per growing pig

The standards for pigs have minimum indoor space requirements, which vary depending on the weight of the pigs and exceed the industry norm for growing pigs. Each group of pigs must have separate areas for lying, exercising, feeding, and defecating.

For nursery pigs up to 35 pounds, the minimum space requirement is 4.5 ft2 or 0.42 m2 per pig and at least 3.5 of the 4.5 ft2  must be bedded and sheltered while the other percentage may be either indoors or outdoors.

For nursery pigs between 36 pounds and 55 pounds, the minimum space requirement is 6 ft2 or 0.56 m2 per pig and at least 4.5 of the 6 ft2  must be bedded and sheltered while the other percentage may be either indoors or outdoors.

For market pigs between 56 pounds and 112 pounds, the minimum space requirement is 7 ft2 or 0.65 m2 per pig and at least 5.25 of the 7 ft2  must be bedded and sheltered while the other percentage may be either indoors or outdoors.

For market pigs larger than 112 pounds, the minimum space requirement is 10 ft2 or 0.93 m2 per pig and at least 7.5 of the 10 ft2  must be bedded and sheltered while the other percentage may be either indoors or outdoors.

For boars, the minimum space requirement is the same for all Step levels. For boars less than 350 pounds, the minimum space requirement is 48 ft2 or 4.5 m2 per boar and for boars more than 350 pounds, the minimum space requirement is 64 ft2 or 5.9 m2 per boar. This space includes the entire pen and lying, exercise, feeding and defecation areas.

Crates for gestating and farrowing sows

Gestation crates and farrowing crates are prohibited for all step levels, which exceeds the industry norm of housing pregnant sows (gestating sows) and sows with piglets (farrowing sows) in crates that are too small to allow the sow to turn around or move freely.

The minimum space requirement for a sow with her litter for Steps 1-4 is 48 ft2, which is 6 by 8 feet. Crates must allow the sow to turn 360o and to be fully outstretched in the pen. 

Farrowing sows must be provided with nest-building materials such as straw.  This slightly exceeds the industry norm of housing pregnant sows (gestating sows) and sows with piglets (farrowing sows) in crates that are too small to allow the sow to turn around or move freely.

Clean bedding

The standards for bedding are the same for all step levels. All pig housing must have bedding that provides comfort, thermal protection, and cleanliness. The bedding must be maintained daily. Slatted floors cannot exceed more than 25% of the total area available to the pigs.

Indoor air / ammonia levels

The standards for indoor ammonia are the same for Steps 1-4 (Step 5 and 5+ do not address ammonia because pigs live outdoors). The standards state that an intervention plan designed to improve air quality must be implemented immediately if air quality levels exceed 20 ppm or a score of 2 on Global Animal Partnership’s air quality scale, which allows producers to use sensory evaluation to determine whether they should take action. On this scale, a score of 2 means the producer rates the odor as “distinct” and experiences watery eyes and/or coughing.

Indoor environmental enrichment

Indoor environmental enrichment is not required for Step 1.

Outdoor access

Outdoor access is not required for Step 1 and the pigs can be continually confined indoors.

Physical alterations

 

The standards prohibit tail docking for all step levels. This exceeds the industry norm of docking the tails of pigs to prevent aggressive tail biting, a problem that arises from various factors, including the animals’ close confinement, heat stress and cold stress and boredom due to a barren environment. When tail biting occurs on GAP certified farms, the standards require that the incidence must be promptly addressed, managed and recorded.

De-tusking, teeth clipping, routine teeth grinding/filling and nose ringing are also prohibited; however, there can be exceptions. If it is necessary to trim tusks, they must be done without cutting into the sensitive pulp chamber and the use of bolt cutters/chopping devices cannot be used. While nose ringing of market animals (pigs raised to be slaughtered) is prohibited, nose ringing is permitted in sows (female pigs that give birth to pigs raised for slaughter) that are given access to pasture in areas where the soil structure can be easily damaged. If the sow loses the ring, it cannot be replaced. Slap marking (a temporary tattoo) and tattooing are acceptable for identification. No more than two ear tags per animal is permitted–one in each ear. For pigs, ear notching can only be conducted before 10 days of age.

For Steps 1-4, piglets must be castrated before the 10 days of age where the age is calculated from the farrowing date of the sow. Piglets can only be castrated using a sharp, clean instrument (scalpel, razor blade, surgical scissors). Therefore, the use of side cutters or any instrument not designed to cut soft tissue is prohibited. Global Animal Partnership strongly encourages the administration of anesthetic and post-operative analgesia to help the animal with pain and discomfort but this is not required.

Blunt force trauma

The use of blunt force trauma as a method of euthanasia is prohibited for all step levels. Blunt force trauma means a sharp blow to the head to kill young piglets by destroying the skull and brain tissue.

Slaughter

While there are no slaughter standards for beef and chickens, the standards for pigs have a section on slaughter. The standards, for all step levels, require that pigs must be slaughtered at a facility that has passed and holds a current third party animal welfare audit based on the American Meat Institute’s Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines and Audit Guide. Slaughter plants must pass all core criteria and all secondary criteria, with a minimum overall score of 90%. An effective stun/kill rate of at least 95% on the first attempt is required, which means that the standards allow up to 5% of the animals to suffer between a first failed attempt and the second or successful attempt, whichever comes later.

A closer look at the standards for cattle (beef)

Pasture

Continuous access to range or pasture is not required, as cattle can be removed from pasture for finishing in a feedlot for up to 1/3 of the animal’s life. This is the same as for Step 2. Step 1 – 2 standards does not exceed the industry norm for access to pasture.

Conditions in the feedlots

The standards state that animals must be protected from heat or cold stress and from extreme weather; however, the standards lack specificity in this regard. Specifically, shade and access to a structure in the feedlot is required for Step 2, but not for Step 1. The GAP 1 standards do exceed the industry norm by requiring that all cattle, even for Step 1, must have a clean, dry place to lie down. This is a requirement for Steps 1 -4.

Pain relief during castration

For all steps for which castration is allowed, Global Animal Partnership suggests that castration be done before 7 days of age with the use of an emasculator ring. For Step 1, castration of calves must occur before 6 months of age and the only methods allowed are compression under rings, high tension bands (only after 3 months of age), surgery, and burdizzo (a burdizzo clamp is a tool that crushes the blood vessels, interrupting the blood supply to the testicles,thus killing the testicle. In order to work correctly, the burdizzo must be in place for about 10 seconds to crush the artery). Castration is not allowed for Step 5 – 5+.

Hot iron branding

Face branding is prohibited; branding on other parts of the body is permitted for steps  1 – 4.

Hot iron branding is one of the methods used for identification of cattle. Industry guidelines recommend branding on the hip area, and state that cattle should never be branded on the face or jaw. While the practice of branding is becoming less common and other methods of identification are increasing in popularity, the most recent survey data, from 2008, show that nearly 40% of cattle are still marked by branding.

Disbudding

Routinely removing the tip of the horns is prohibited, as is dehorning (dehorning extends to the point of cutting into living tissue). Disbudding is only allowed before 6 weeks of age and tipping is permitted only when “it is necessary to prevent the horns from growing into the animal’s head or in response to behavior that puts other animals or handlers at risk.” This is the same as for Step 1-4. Disbudding is prohibited for Step 5-5+.

Slaughter

There are no slaughter standards for beef, for any of the step levels.

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A closer look at the standards for: 

The requirements below are the same for all step levels.

Antibiotic use

Global Animal Partnership standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, except for chickens, for all step levels. If a market animal becomes sick and must be treated with antibiotics, that animal must be identified and removed from the Global Animal Partnership program. The standards also state that sick or injured animals must receive immediate individual treatment designed to minimize pain and suffering.

To protect public health and combat the global threat of antibiotic resistance, antibiotics in animal agriculture should only be used to treat diagnosed disease. It is the industry norm to use antibiotics for disease prevention and control, as well as for disease treatment. The Global Animal Partnership standards exceed the industry norm for antibiotic use, except for chickens.

Drugs for growth promotion

Growth hormones (beef only)

Growth hormones are prohibited for all step levels. The FDA allows beef cattle to be implanted with growth hormones, so the GAP standards exceed the industry norm for growth hormone use.

However, the Global Animal Partnership standards do not prohibit the use of hormones such as oxytocin for reproductive purposes.

Beta agonists (beef, pork, turkey)

Beta agonists, which are drugs used for growth promotion, are prohibited for all step levels.

The FDA allows growth promoting drugs, such as beta agonists, to be added to feed for beef cattle, pigs, and turkeys. By prohibiting beta agonists in feed, the GAP standards exceed the industry norm.

Animal by-products in feed

For all step levels, animal by-products are prohibited in feed, including mammalian and avian-derived protein.

For chickens, turkeys, and pigs, the use of mammalian, avian, fish, and fish by-products is prohibited. For beef/cattle, mammalian and avian by-products and wastes (with the exception of milk and milk-derived products) are prohibited. By-products include animal waste and products derived from slaughter, including meat, bones, blood, fat, and feathers. For fish, this includes whole fish, parts of fish, fish meal, fish by-products from the processing industry, and other aquatic species and/or products. It does not include seaweed or oyster shell.

The FDA prohibits ruminant-derived protein sources in dairy cow and beef cattle feed, but it allows pig and poultry slaughter waste products, poultry litter, and feces. In pig and poultry feed, the FDA does not restrict the use of slaughterhouse waste products and waste from livestock operations, such as poultry litter and feces. The GAP standards exceed the industry norm for animal by-products in feed.

GMOs in feed

GMOs are allowed in animal feed. This applies to all step levels.

How meaningful is this label? 

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Is the label verified?

Yes

Farms are inspected by a third-party certification agency every 15 months to ensure that, over time, farms will be inspected in all four seasons. The policy manual for Global Animal Partnership does not mention unannounced inspections as part of the verification process, and Global Animal Partnership did not respond to our inquiries.

Global Animal Partnership works with three certification agencies: IMI Global, EarthClaims, LLC, and AUS-MEAT Limited (for beef in Australia).

Is the meaning of the label consistent?

While the standards are generally consistent across species, there is an inconsistency: Beef, turkey, pork, and bison meat from animals that were treated with antibiotics cannot be sold as GAP certified under any step, while all steps for chickens allow the therapeutic use of antibiotics.*

*GAP certified meat treated with antibiotics would not be sold at Whole Foods Market stores, which prohibit all antibiotic use. GAP products found outside of Whole Foods follow the antibiotic use described above.

Are the label standards publicly available?

Yes. The standards are posted on the website.

www.globalanimalpartnership.org/5-step-animal-welfare-rating-program/standards

Is information about the organization publicly available?

Yes

Board of Directors: Members of the Board of Directors are listed on its website, including the director’s affiliations.

Financial Information: The organization is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, and its IRS Form 990 is publicly available.

Is the organization free from conflict of interest?

Unknown.

Standards development: Several members of the organization’s Board of Directors are either GAP-certified livestock producers or employees of companies that sell GAP-certified products. The organization’s bylaws were not shared with Consumer Reports, so we could not verify whether board members with a conflict of interest vote on the standards.

Verification: The organization’s bylaws were not shared with Consumer Reports, so we could not verify whether there is a conflict of interest policy for certifiers.

Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?

Yes.

Standards development: The standards are initially drafted by members of a scientific committee, which includes academics, producers, and other experts in the particular species. The standards are reviewed by invited experts from various stakeholder groups and posted online for public comment.

Standards updates: When changes to the standards are made, GAP distributes the draft to its participating producers and posts the draft on its website, inviting public comments. The draft is revised based on public comments before the board ratifies the changes.