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. Step 5+ is a highly meaningful label for consumers who want to support farms with improved living conditions and high welfare practices.
In Step 5+, chickens and pigs are raised on pasture with access to housing and shelter. Beef are raised on pasture for their entire lives and do not undergo painful physical alterations.
Step 5+ is nearly identical to Step 5. The only difference is that Step 5+ standards require that animals are slaughtered on the farm and never transported (except for chickens, which can be transported for up to two hours to on-site or local slaughter). 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 5+ indoor space requirement for a chicken is larger than for all lower step levels but equivalent to Step 5: roughly 1 square foot per 5-pound bird. (The standards state that the stocking density should not exceed 5 pounds of chicken per square foot.) This is a 49 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 feet2) with no additional outdoor space.
For housing space, 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: 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 5+ require that chickens experience a daily minimum of eight hours of continuous darkness throughout their lives. This is the same as steps 3, 4, and 5, and 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 first four weeks of life.
There are no requirements for indoor environmental enrichment for Step 5 and 5+, since those chickens live outdoors.
Continuous access to the outdoors during daylight hours must be given to all chicken starting from 4 weeks of age, except during extreme weather conditions (such as tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, floods). Any chickens slaughtered before the age of 28 days must have been given access to the outdoors during daylight hours for at least two weeks, while turkeys must have at least five weeks of access.
In order to achieve Step 5+ rated poultry, producers must provide an outdoor area that is at least 75 percent covered in vegetation and/or forage; litter does not qualify as forage. (The percentage of the outdoor area that has to be covered with vegetation and/or forage is 25 for Step 3 and 50 for Step 4.) There are no minimum space requirements of the outdoor space for Step 5+.
Breeds and genetic lines must be chosen for good leg health and low levels of mortality,* and for the ability to range and for good immune systems. Birds must be able to perch from 10 days of age throughout their lives. There is no limit on the rate of growth. This slightly exceeds the industry norm of raising 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 Steps 5 and 5+, an intervention plan has to be implemented if flock mortality exceeds 0.25 percent in a 24-hour period. This exceeds the standard for steps 1 through 3, which is 0.50 percent mortality, and Step 4, which is 0.35 percent 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)
In the Step 5+ system, pigs must live continuously on pasture unless extreme weather conditions pose a risk to their welfare. Pasture can include rangelands, grasslands, planted pastures, managed pastures, wooded areas, harvested crop areas, and any other land where pigs have access to vegetation. Pigs must also spend their entire lives on the same farm, which includes slaughter.
Minimum indoor space requirements vary depending on the weight of the pigs and exceed the industry norm. These requirements apply to pigs on pasture and when the animals are removed from pasture.
For nursery pigs up to 35 pounds, the minimum lying space requirement is 3.5 square feet per pig, an area that must be bedded and sheltered. This is the same space requirement for Step 3, but pigs in Step 4, 5,and 5+ have additional space outdoors.
For nursery pigs between 36 and 55 pounds, the minimum lying space requirement is 4.5 square feet or 0.42 square meters per pig, an area that must be bedded and sheltered. This is the same space requirement for Step 3, but pigs in Steps 4 through 5+ have additional space outdoors.
For market pigs between 56 and 112 pounds, the minimum lying space requirement is 5.25 square feet or 0.49 square meters per pig, an area that must be bedded and sheltered. This is the same space requirement for Step 3, but pigs in Steps 4 through 5+ have additional space outdoors.
For market pigs larger than 112 pounds, the minimum lying space requirement is 9 square feet or 0.84 square meters per pig, an area that must be bedded and sheltered. This is the same space requirement for Step 3, but pigs in Steps 4 through 5+ have additional space outdoors.
For boars, the minimum space requirement is the same for all step levels. Boars less than 350 pounds must have at least 48 square feet or 4.5 square meters per boar. For those more than 350 pounds, the minimum space requirement is 64 square feet or 5.9 square meters 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, 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.
For farrowing sows and gilts in Steps 5 and 5+, indoor farrowing pens and indoor group farrowing systems are not allowed. Outdoor farrowing huts must have a minimum space of 48 square feet or 4.5 square meters, which must allow the sow to turn around and outstretch fully in the hut.
Farrowing 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 or 1.5 square meters and must be bedded. This applies to all step levels.
All pig housing must have bedding that provides comfort, thermal protection, and cleanliness. The bedding must be maintained daily.
Steps 5 and 5+ include no requirement for indoor air quality, since those pigs live mostly outdoors. However, pigs can be removed from pasture for up to five consecutive days due to weather conditions, and the ammonia standards do not apply in this case.
Steps 5 and 5+ include no requirement for environmental enrichment, since those pigs live mostly outdoors.
All pigs must live continuously on pasture and have continuous access to housing or shelter to ensure their thermal comfort is maintained. At least 50 percent of the pasture area must be covered with vegetation with nutritional and/or enrichment value. Aversive plants, harvested vegetation, and alfalfa hay do not meet the standard. There is no minimum space requirement for the outdoor area, but the requirement to maintain at least 50 percent vegetation on the pasture sets a limit on how many animals can be kept in a given area. Pigs must not be removed from pasture unless weather conditions pose a risk to their welfare. In this case, pigs can be temporarily removed until the weather has improved, and a record must be kept. This temporary removal cannot exceed five consecutive days or 25 days within a 12-month period unless approved by Global Animal Partnership.
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 the animals’ close confinement, stress, and boredom. When tail biting occurs on GAP certified farms, the standards require that the incident is promptly addressed, managed, and recorded.
For Steps 5 and 5+, ear notching of pigs is prohibited, as is nose ringing for all animals, including breeding sows.
Castration of pigs is prohibited for Steps 5 and 5+.
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 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.
Step 5+ is the only level that also requires pigs to be slaughtered on-farm using an on-site slaughter facility or mobile slaughter unit.
A closer look at the standards for cattle (beef)
Cattle must live continuously on range or pasture and can only be removed due to extreme weather conditions. This standard applies only to Step 5 and 5+. The pasture or range must have at least 75 percent vegetative cover, and sufficient shade for all the animals. The standards do not set a maximum stocking density or minimum space requirement per animal.
For Step 5+, castration is prohibited.
For Step 5 and 5+ beef cattle, branding is prohibited.
For Step 5 and 5+, disbudding is prohibited.
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.