How do I choose a dairy product to purchase when there are so many different labels to pay attention to?
Picture yourself walking through the egg, meat, and dairy section of your local grocery store. Have you ever noticed labels like USDA certified, Certified Humane, Organic, or ASPCA-approved? Have you ever wondered what all these labels mean and if they mean that you should or shouldn’t be buying those particular products? It’s understandable that all the labeling can be overwhelming and can make you question what products are the best for your family, especially when the labeling relates to the humane handling of livestock. But, it is also very important to recognize that in the background, there are mandatory regulations for the safe and humane handling of all livestock, regardless of what’s presented on the label. Most of the labels you see on food products are the result of farmers opting into voluntary, third-party programs. That doesn’t mean the products without those labels are sourced from farms that don't prioritize humane treatment. Take the dairy industry as an example: 98% of all dairy farms are compliant with the National Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (F.A.R.M) program – a program that has an extensive list of requirements ensuring proper animal care, yet most of these products are not labeled with a F.A.R.M. logo. A majority of the requirements for additional certification and labeling are already met in those mandatory regulations, which essentially means that the animal products on the shelf with extra labeling are more than likely sourced from animals with the same welfare standards. Now, this isn’t to discredit additional certification or to imply that it isn’t important. This information is to encourage you to think beyond the final product you see in the store, and to think about what requirements and standards farmers are obligated to adhere to behind the scenes. Going back to the dairy industry example, if farmers don’t meet the welfare requirements of the F.A.R.M. program, milk from their farm simply won’t be picked up, processed, or sold, and the farmers won’t get paid. Ensuring all livestock are treated humanely and raised with care is the highest priority for farmers. Finding the right products to feed your family can be complicated, but understanding labeling doesn't have to be!
Question answered by Casey Havekes, Regional Dairy Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension North Country Regional Ag Team. Contact Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated January 29, 2020