How to avoid eating factory-farmed meat


So you've cut back on meat for ethical and environmental reasons but you still like the occasional burger and BLT. How do you make sure what you're eating wasn't raised on a factory farm?

With factory farms producing 99% of the animal products sold in the US, it isn't easy. Even if you've committed to doing the legwork on eating only humanely raised, clean animals you quickly run into the Label Problem, that is, how loose and open to interpretation they can be.

"Free range," for example, can mean one thing for poultry and another for eggs. "Organic," as currently written, does not mandate access to pasture, which means organic milk can come from cows that spend most of their days inside on cement floors with no chance of getting outdoors.

"Pasture-raised" is no insurance the animals were raised outdoors since government agencies have no common standard producers have to meet, no definition for “pasture,” and no requirement for the claim to be verified through on-farm inspections.

Fortunately, a few good groups are trying to make it easier for the rest of us to eat good food. Here's some help for anyone committed to promoting good food through their own shopping choices.

Choose food that has been Certified Humane. This nonprofit group, supported by more than 66 humane associations, has established a series of measures for the humane treatment and slaughter of cows, pigs, lambs, chickens, and more. Check here to see the farms and ranches that have made the cut. 

Don't buy into "pasture-raised." Consumers wanting to buy meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs from animals that are raised on pasture should look for additional labels that indicate meaningful standards for access to pasture were met, including:

  • American Grassfed
  • Animal Welfare-approved
  • PCO Certified 100% Grassfed
  • NOFA-NY 100% Grassfed
  • USDA Organic (Dairy and Beef Only)
  • Certified Humane Raised and Handled + Pasture Raised (eggs only)
  • American Humane Certified + Pasture Raised (eggs only)
  • Global Animal Partnership steps 4 to 5 (beef cattle and pigs)
  • Global Animal Partnership steps 5 + 5 (all animals)

Get to know these directories:

  • Eat Well Guide. A curated directory of farms, restaurants, markets and other businesses that produce or offer food using "farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities and animal welfare." It's got about 25,000 listings now and welcomes contributions.
  • Local Harvest. This guide makes it easier to stick to your resolution to spend less time in supermarkets. Enter your zipcode to discover the CSAs and farmer's markets in your neighborhood.

Takeaway: Doing a little research can go a long way toward lessening your carbon footprint and helping farmed animals have better lives. If you know of other shopping tools or guides worth sharing please let us know at