- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

BUCKEYSTOWN, Md. — Contented cows now can offer proof: labels certifying their milk and beef come from livestock raised under what some animal welfare groups consider humane conditions.

The rectangular labels reading “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” should start appearing in about a month on meat, poultry, dairy and egg products, said Adele Douglass, executive director of Humane Farm Animal Care.

The program, backed by 10 animal welfare groups, certifies producers and processors who meet certain standards for animal treatment. Participants are charged modest royalty fees — 50 cents a pig, for example — and pay for annual inspections at $400 a day.

Humane Farm Animal Care will pay the U.S. Agriculture Department to check some farms’ documents to verify that the group is meeting its own certification standards.

“This is not necessarily an approval of these marketing claims or handling techniques,” said Randall Jones, an associate deputy administrator in the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The program reflects a growing movement in the United States and abroad seeking better treatment of farm animals. On May 1, KFC announced new standards to ensure humane treatment of its chickens. A Gallup poll released Wednesday found most Americans supported passing strict laws for farm animal treatment.

“The consolidation of the agriculture business and the creation of industry farms means too many farm animals across the country are treated inhumanely,” Miss Douglass said.

While the certification coalition aims to encourage humane practices, other animal rights groups have drawn attention for tactics including sneaking onto egg farms to document poor conditions and staging protests dressed as crippled turkeys. In November, Florida voters became the first in the nation to ban the confinement of pregnant pigs.

The Humane Farm Animal Care certification standards prohibit keeping pregnant pigs in metal “gestation crates,” confining egg-laying hens in cages and tying dairy cows in stalls. They bar using growth hormones and turning animals too sick to walk into food.

A similar labeling program sponsored by the Denver-based American Humane Association in 2000 failed for lack of funding. Miss Douglass said the new program’s broader base should ensure its success.

Miss Douglass said consumers who buy foods bearing the blue, green and white labels will “send a powerful message to the agriculture industry that the humane care and treatment of American farm animals should be a priority.”

National Pork Producers Council spokeswoman Kara Flynn said the labeling program is part of “an anti-meat agenda” with no scientific basis. “It’s saying if you don’t adhere to this, you’re going to be seen as someone who’s not rearing or treating animals humanely, and that’s false,” she said.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, based in Denver, disagreed with the program’s ban on feeds containing antibiotics, but said many of the standards were similar to guidelines it was developing.

“I see this program to be very compatible and very consistent with our desire to see that cattle are cared for in a humane manner,” said Gary Weber, the association’s executive director of regulatory affairs.

Miss Douglass said five producers have been certified, and her group, based in Herndon, is inspecting slaughterhouses for compliance with the American Meat Institute Standards, a higher standard for slaughtering farm animals than the Federal Humane Slaughter Act.

One certified producer, Hedgeapple Farm of Buckeystown, raises black Angus beef cattle on 250 acres in Frederick County. The free-ranging animals eat as much fresh grass, rather than grain or hay, as the seasons allow. They are protected from disease by vaccinations, not feed additives that could accumulate in their meat.

“It just makes good sense to treat your production animals right,” said John Jorgensen, president of the family foundation that owns the farm.

He said the techniques cost no more than grain-feeding the animals in crowded feedlots, and he charges about 25 percent more for the beef, which is available only at the farm.

“You can market your product at a premium because people are willing to pay for that type of certification,” Mr. Jorgensen said.

The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are among the program’s supporters.

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