Brighter Future

Let’s learn about “humane” labels

Let’s learn about “humane” labels

Handsome Hens chatting by the barn

What to look for in humane certifications, and why it’s not as simple as you might think.

So, we’ve chatted about the meaning (and limitations) of an Organic Certification — both on its own and in the context of the now withdrawn, USDA proposed rule on OLPP.  As we’ve learned, the word “Organic” alone doesn’t guarantee high standards of animal welfare. Then what does? How can you know how the hens from which your eggs come are being treated? One word that you’ll see used a lot on cartons is “humane”. Today, we’ll break down that term — and its variable industry definitions — so that you can make informed decisions the next time you hit the egg aisle. 

To note: as with many other farming criteria, one label alone is rarely enough to tell us all we need to know about what’s happening behind-the-scenes. It's worth your time to investigate the intricacies of meeting eligibility requirements to obtain these various certifications (and which other labels they’re paired with). Let’s get things started with a high level overview of the top animal-welfare certifications types [drum roll, please…]

Animal Welfare Approved 

Typically considered one of the premium options in that it demands a degree of outdoor access, this option requires 4 square feet of outdoor space per hen, prohibits cages, mandates environmental enrichments (ex: dust bathing materials), natural light and continuous daytime ranging and foraging access. While, compared to other certification levels, American Welfare Approved requires high standards for certain living conditions, it does not require a remarkable amount of personal outdoor space for each hen. 

Not cute enough by our standards. 

“Certified Humane Raised and Handled” label by Humane Farm Animal Care (“HFAC”) 

Fairly similar to the above option, this certification prohibits cages, requires slightly less — 1.5ft squared per hen —  but outdoor access/natural light are only required for free-range/pasture-raised certifications. As we’ll continue to see, the surface-level certification alone is not enough to understand the intricacies of how the hens are being treated. The “Certified Humane” could mean Cage-Free, Free-Range, or Pasture-Raised and participation in the program gives everyone the ability to use the logo. Look closely for other labels (cage free, free range, pasture-raised) to understand what the daily life of hens actually looks like. 

Handsome, but not the whole story.

Global Animal Partnership (“GAP”, steps 1-5) 

This label is worth digging into, because it can be misleading. GAP consists of five different “steps”. All steps prohibit cages and require a minimum of 1.5 square feet per hen. Any steps below 3 don’t require outdoor access (steps 3 + 4 require 4 hours a day, and only step 5 requires continuous access). Keep an eye on which level of GAP your producer is citing to ensure they’re meeting your expectations. 

Generally speaking, not cute.

American Humane Certified ("AHC") 

Underneath the AHC roof, there are three different categories: cage-free, free-range and pasture-raised — each with different minimums and standards. At Handsome Brook Farms, our eggs are AHC, pasture-raised certified** — meaning that each hen has at least 108.9 square feet to itself (luxurious!), daytime outdoor access and nights spent safely in the barn. It’s worth looking closely at which of these three sub-certifications your producer cites to better understand how each hen is being treated. 

Handsome when combined with pasture-raised.


While a bit overwhelming (don’t worry, we know it’s a lot!), humane certifications are an important part of getting a feel for how the hens creating your everyday eggs are leading their everyday lives. The biggest takeaway here is that the certification title alone is not enough. Sure, it’s a start — but investigating a bit more closely to understand the nuance around space requirements and outdoor access is an important part of making sense of where your food comes from. Here’s a quick refresher on the other labels that play a big part.


** In June 2018, Handsome Brook Farm announced that it was working with Humane Farm Animal Care to complete the additional certification of Certified Humane for pasture-raised eggs. Our pasture-raised eggs are already certified by the American Humane Association.

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