The Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certification program is comprised of a series of step levels, each corresponding to a set of animal welfare standards. The rigor of the standards increases with higher step levels. The Step 4 label for chickens and pigs means the animals live in an enriched outdoor area. For beef cattle, the label means the animals are raised on pasture.
For all step levels, the GAP standards set limits on indoor ammonia levels, prohibit routine drug use (including antibiotics), prohibit animal waste products in feed, and prohibit routine tail docking of pigs. The label is verified.
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
What this label means
A closer look at the standards for broilers (chicken)
The Step 4 indoor space requirement for a chicken is roughly 11.9 by 11 inches for a 5-pound bird. This is an improvement over steps 1 through 3.
The Step 4 minimum indoor space requirement is roughly 0.91 square feet per 5-pound bird. (The standards state that the stocking density should not exceed 5.5 pounds of chicken per square foot.) This is a 36 percent increase over the industry norm, and chickens are given additional space outdoors; the space requirements are therefore an improvement over the industry norm, which gives each 5-pound chicken roughly 9.6 by 10 inches (0.67 square feet) with no additional outdoor space.
For housing, chickens must be given enough space to express natural behaviors, which include standing, turning around, and preening (using the beak to straighten and clean feathers) without touching another bird.
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 three days, must be covered with non-toxic, fibrous, and friable litter. 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.
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.)
The standards for Step 4 require that chickens experience a daily minimum of eight hours of continuous darkness throughout their lives. This is the same as steps 3, 5, and 5+, and it’s an improvement over steps 1 and 2, which require six hours of darkness. All step levels exceed the industry norm of providing only four hours of continuous darkness per 24-hour cycle after the birds’ first four weeks of life.
To qualify as Step 4 rated, chickens must have at least two types of indoor enrichment, which must be provided by the time they are 10 days old (this is the same as Step 3). There must also be at least two types of enrichment in a covered outdoor area. Global Animal Partnership defines environmental enrichments as material that are provided to animals to “add complexity to their environment, encourage the expression of natural behavior, and decrease the expression of abnormal and deleterious behavior.” Examples of acceptable enrichment include bales of straw of hay, raised platforms, provision of forages or brassicas (e.g., broccoli), and scattered grains. Step 3 and 4 are an improvement over Step 1, which requires no enrichment, and Step 2, which requires one type of indoor environmental enrichment. Step 4 exceeds the industry norm. (Step 5 and 5+ chickens live mostly outdoors so indoor environmental enrichment is not needed.)
The standards for Step 4 require that chickens live continuously in an enriched outdoor area with access to housing during daylight hours. Continuous access to the outdoors during daylight hours must be given to all chicken from the age of 4 weeks.
Outdoor access is defined as pastures, rangelands, lots, cover crop areas, woodlands, and harvested crop areas. Movable chicken coops that confine chickens and only allow them to range in the unit can qualify as Step 4 rated if all other standards are met. If the weather/climate conditions pose a threat to the chickens, they do not need to live continuously in an outdoor area, but they must have continuous access during daylight hours to a covered outdoor area that has natural light and foraging material (such as whole grains, hay, or straw). A covered outdoor area for use when the weather/climate conditions are a risk must have a minimum floor space that is 25 percent of the indoor floor space. The covered outdoor area must also have at least two different types of enrichment and cannot have slatted or wire floors. Acceptable enrichments include bales of straw or hay, raised platforms, provision of forages or brassicas (e.g., broccoli), and scattered grains. Perches, dust baths, and litter are also required. This requirement for a covered outdoor area for chickens only applies to Step 4 standards.
The standards for Step 4 require that at least 50 percent of the outdoor area is covered in vegetation and/or forage; litter does not qualify as forage. The chickens’ occupied outdoor area must encourage the birds to range and provide shade, natural or artificial, in each occupied outdoor area (with bushes and shrubs, shade cloth, A-frame structures, or perches).
For all step levels, breeds and genetic lines must be chosen for good leg health and 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 birds’ health and welfare.
* The standards specify what would be considered a “low level of mortality.” For Step 4, an intervention plan has to be implemented if flock mortality exceeds 0.35percent in a 24-hour period. This is exceeds the standard for Steps 1-3, which is 0.5percent mortality in a 24-hour period.
There are no slaughter standards for chickens for any of the step levels.
A closer look at the standards for pigs (pork)
Minimum indoor space requirements vary according to the weight of the pigs and exceed the industry norm. Each group of pigs must have separate areas for lying, exercising, feeding, and defecating.
For nursery pigs up to 35 pounds, the minimum lying space requirement is at least 3.5 square feet per pig, and the lying space must be bedded and sheltered. This is the same space requirement as Step 3, but pigs in Step 4 have additional space outdoors. If the pigs are removed from pasture, there must be at least 1 square foot of outdoor exercise, feeding, and defecation area for each pig.
For nursery pigs between 36 pounds and 55 pounds, the minimum lying space requirement is at least 4.5 square feet per pig, and the lying space must be bedded and sheltered. This is the same space requirement as Step 3, but pigs in Step 4 have additional space outdoors. If the pigs are removed from pasture, there must be at least 1.5 square feet of outdoor area for exercise, feeding, and defecation for each pig.
For market pigs between 56 pounds and 112 pounds, the minimum lying space requirement is at least 5.25 square feet per pig. It must be bedded and sheltered. This is the same space requirement as Step 3, but pigs in Step 4 have additional space outdoors. If the pigs are removed from pasture, there must be an outdoor area of at least 1.75 square feet for each pig for exercise, feeding, and defecation.
For market pigs larger than 112 pounds, the minimum lying space per pig is at least 9 square feet, which must be bedded and sheltered. This is the same space requirement as Step 3, but pigs in Step 4 have additional space outdoors. If the pigs are removed from pasture, there must be at least 9 square feet of additional exercise, feeding, and defecation area for each pig and at least 6 square feet must be outdoors. The remaining square footage can be indoors or outdoors but does not need to be bedded.
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 square feet per boar, and for boars more than 350 pounds, the minimum space requirement is 64 square feet per boar. This space includes the entire pen and areas for lying, exercise, feeding and defecation.
Gestation crates and farrowing crates are prohibited for all step levels, a standard that 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.
For farrowing sows and gilts, both farrowing pens (indoors) and farrowing huts (outdoors) must have a minimum space of 48 square feet, which must allow the sow to turn around and outstretch fully in the pen. This applies to steps 1 through 4.
For group farrowing, sows must have a minimum space of 48 square feet, and the space for farrowing must be a minimum of 35 square feet and cannot inhibit the sow from turning around and lying fully outstretched. This applies to steps 1 through 4.
Farrowing pens and huts must include a protected space for piglets, and proper nest building materials must be provided to sows a minimum of three days prior to the farrowing date. This applies to all step levels.
For gestating sows, the minimum lying space is 16 square feet and must be bedded. This applies to all step levels. If the gestating sows are removed from pasture, an additional area for exercise, feeding, and dunging must be 40 square feet. At least 20 square feet of it must be outdoors or on pasture but it does not need to be bedded. The remaining space can be indoors or outdoors and does not need to be bedded. This is the same as Step 3.
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 percent of the total area available to the pigs.
The standards for indoor ammonia are the same for steps 1 through 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.
Environmental enrichments are required for steps 2 through 4 (not Step 5 and 5+ since those pigs live mostly outdoors). Enrichments must be provided to gestating sows, replacement animals, sows and pigs from weaning throughout the growth period. Global Animal Partnership defines environmental enrichments as materials that are provided to animals to “add complexity to their environment, encourage the expression of natural behavior, and decrease the expression of abnormal and deleterious behavior.” Examples of indoor environmental enrichment include straw bales, hay, silage, wood chips, branches, whole crop peas and barley, compost, peat, or other natural materials.
Access to an outdoor area that is at least 25 percent covered with vegetation is required. When the pasture is down to 25 percent vegetation, pigs are to be rotated to a different area of the pasture. All pigs over the age of 2 weeks must have continuous access to pasture, and all pigs must have continuous access to housing or shelter to ensure their thermal comfort is maintained.
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 the incident is 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’s necessary to trim tusks, it must be done without cutting into the sensitive pulp chamber or with the use of bolt cutters/chopping devices. 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, which is a temporary tattoo, and tattooing are acceptable for identification. No more than two ear tags per animal are permitted, one in each ear. For pigs, ear notching can only be conducted before 10 days of age.
For steps 1 through 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 with a sharp, clean instrument (scalpel, razor blade, or 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 postoperative analgesia to help the animal with pain and discomfort, but this is not required.
The use of blunt force trauma—a sharp blow to the head that kills young piglets by destroying the skull and brain tissue—is prohibited as a method of euthanasia for all step levels.
While there are no slaughter standards for beef and chickens, the standards for all step levels require that pigs are 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 percent. An effective stun/kill rate of at least 95 percent on the first attempt is required, which means the standards allow up to 5 percent 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)
All cattle have to spend at least three quarters of their lives on a range or pasture and can only be removed for extreme weather or seasonal conditions that compromise the cattle’s welfare. Removing an animal for more than four months in a single year or more than a quarter of the animal’s life is prohibited.
For all steps for which castration is allowed, Global Animal Partnership suggests the procedure is done with an emasculator ring and before the animals are 7 days old. For Step 2, 3, and 4, castration of calves must occur before the animals are 3 months of age. The only methods allowed are compression under rings, surgery, and a burdizzo clamp, which crushes the blood vessels, interrupting the blood supply to the testicles. Castration is not allowed for Step 5 and 5+.
Face branding is prohibited; branding on other parts of the body is permitted for Steps 1 through 4.
Branding is one of the methods used to identify 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 percent of cattle are still marked by branding.
Routine tipping of the horns, which is the removal of the tips of the horns, and complete removal of fully grown horns are both prohibited. Disbudding, or cauterizing horn buds before they grow into horns, is only allowed before 6 weeks of age. 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 Steps 1 through 4. Disbudding is prohibited for Step 5 and 5+.
There are no slaughter standards for beef at any step level.
A closer look at the standards for:
The requirements below are the same for all step levels.
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.
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.
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 are allowed in animal feed. This applies to all step levels.
How meaningful is this label?
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).
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.
Yes. The standards are posted on the website.
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.
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.
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.