If you’re trying to take a more responsible approach to food in 2019, World Animal Protection has compiled a guide to help you wade through all of the terms.

Gone are the days when organic was the only label to look for when choosing an animal product which might be better for you or the planet.

Now consumers are facing a whole array of buzz words at grocery stores and on menus. Words such as higher welfare, farm fresh, locally grown, vegetarian fed and free range are just a few which are emblazoned on labels.

The problem is, some of the words mean much more than others, and some mean nothing at all.

“Consumers, we know, are increasingly concerned about animal welfare so it is just a nifty guide to give them a tool so they know what to look for at the grocery store,” said Lynn Kavanagh, Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection.

The guide lists each animal and the specific requirements for each term or certification to be used.

For example, for a dairy cow to be labelled organic, some of the requirements around crowded conditions and an enriched environment are different than cows which are Certified Humane or SPCA Certified.

Kavanagh said one of the group's goals is to bust myths.

“Sometimes people think, for example if something is locally raised that it is higher welfare. That’s not necessarily the case. A lot of animals raised in conventional systems, even if they are local, they may still be in those conventional systems, like intensive systems where they are crowded and confined,” she said.

“Something like vegetarian fed, that does have a meaning but it doesn’t necessarily mean animal welfare. It means there might not be any animal by-products in the food that’s given to animals so the feed is strictly vegetarian, but again the animal can still be raised in an intensive agriculture system that isn’t the highest welfare, just standard factory farming."

One of the tougher certifications to get is SPCA Certified.

“We wanted to be SPCA certified to show that the care we have always given our animals was verified by a third person party with a good reputation, social awareness and was well recognized,” said Edgar Smith, the owner of Beaver Meadows Farms in Comox.

He said they didn’t have to change to get SPCA Certified, because they have always treated their animals humanely. His farm also meets organic standards for its beef and is certified Salmon-Safe.

“We sequester carbon in our soils, we practice sustainable farming. We are carbon neutral in our production systems. We store more carbon than we release. We collect water in our soils, so the world’s water cycle functions well, cooling an ever overheating planet,” said Smith.

The owner of Flatlander’s Farm in Mill Bay, decided to get SPCA Certified for similar reasons.

“As a young girl raised on a farm in Saskatchewan, I visited our neighbour's chicken barn and was crushed by the conditions in which they lived. We wanted to be an example of how you can provide good food in a way in which consumers do not have to turn a blind eye as to how the food is raised,” said owner Karen Bittner. 

She has 99 egg-laying hens on her five-acre farm, where she grows fruits and vegetables as well.

“Our hens are free range, are fed certified organic food purchased locally and they enjoy many garden treats - kohlrabi, pumpkins and sunflowers being all-time favourites,” said Bittner.

Free range is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to food labels, because although it doesn’t have inspections, it is very commonly recognized.

“Typically, I would say that if it issued it does have meaning even if it is not third party audited. We know that eggs that have the free run label, hens are kept in open barn systems and not in cages,” said Kavanagh.

Kavanagh said wading through the labels when making food choices can make a big difference in animal welfare.

“They suffer, that’s the bottom line they suffer when they are kept in these very unnatural situations where they don’t have their behavioural and psychological needs met.”