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Animal Welfare Audit and Certification Programs

In the United States, most livestock production industries have developed and implemented certification programs with science-based animal care guidelines in response to consumer concerns about the treatment of farm animals. Guidelines are written as a collaboration between farmers, veterinarians, scientists, animal advocacy groups, and industry professionals. Due to the lack of federal legislation protecting farm animals, voluntary third-party welfare audits were started to provide assurances that animals are being raised according to these programs' guidelines. Find information on specific humane certification programs, animal husbandry guidelines, and third-party animal welfare audit programs.

Certification Programs

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A woman kneeling in front of dairy cows and writing on a clipboard.

What is a certification program?

Certification programs set standards and guidelines for the humane care of various livestock species such as cattle, swine, sheep, and poultry. Once a farm is certified, these programs will perform periodic audits to ensure compliance with the program. If compliance is not met, the farms may be terminated from the program. 

Below are a few of the most well-known certification programs. Standards, guidelines, and enrollment vary by program. Mention of commercial enterprises or brand names does not constitute endorsement or imply preference by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

  • Certified Humane Certification Program

    This non-profit group provides an inspection, certification and labeling program for meat, poultry, egg and dairy products from animals raised to humane care standards.

  • Global Animal Partnership's (GAP) 5-Step Program

    The GAP's 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards is a certification program for farmers, ranchers, packers, and feeders.

  • American Humane Certified

    This program was created to certify humane farming and ranching practices of cattle, bison, poultry, goats, and swine. 

  • Animal Welfare Approved

    Animal Welfare Approved, a program of A Greener World, audits, certifies and supports independent family farmers raising their animals according to the highest animal welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range.

Certification Programs and Food Labels

A Consumer's Guide to Food Labels and Animal Welfare

Animal Welfare Institute.

Many food labels can be confusing and misleading. This guide provides definitions and animal welfare implications for some of the most commonly used labels on dairy, egg, meat, and poultry products, including labels used when farmers participate in certification programs.

Species-specific Standards and Guidelines

Animal industry associations provide animal welfare guidelines for farmers.

Beef Quality Assurance Manuals

National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

The beef check-off program shares guidelines on feedstuffs, feed additives and medications, processing/treatment and records, injectable animal health products, and care and husbandry practices.

Pork Checkoff Certification and Tools

National Pork Board. 

The Pork Checkoff offers several certification programs to help pork producers, animal caretakers, and drivers properly manage their pigs. 

Sheep Care and Welfare

American Sheep Industry Association.

Guides and videos help sheep farmers and ranchers stay up-to-date on sheep care and welfare recommendations. 

Animal Welfare for Broiler Chickens

National Chicken Council. 

The chicken industry has developed specific expectations to ensure broiler chickens (i.e., birds raised for meat) are raised under the highest standards of care. 

Animal Care Resources on Laying Hens

United Egg Producers.

Experts have written animal husbandry guidelines for farmers raising laying hens (i.e., chickens that produce eggs) in both conventional caging and cage-free methods. 

FARM: Animal Care for Dairy Cows

Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM). 

The FARM Animal Care Program standards provide dairy farmers with current science and best management practices regarding the welfare of dairy cows. 

Slaughter Plant Guidelines

Slaughter Plant Guidelines and Audits

North American Meat Institute.

Animal welfare expert, Dr. Temple Grandin, gives her recommendations for animal handling and auditing various activities at slaughter plants. 

Third-Party Audit and Assessment Programs

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A woman squats down to observe a group of chickens in the field.

What is a third-party audit or assessment?

Third-party audits and assessments are completed by independent auditors, who have no stake in or are impartial to the farm they are auditing. Third-party audits can ensure that a certification program's auditors remain consistent and accurate with their inspections as well as provide assurance that the program's welfare guidelines retain high standards. If a farmer or rancher isn't part of a certification program, they may still hire a third-party auditing company to perform a welfare assessment of their farm or operation. 

Below is a list of some of third-party audit and assessment companies that can be used by certification programs or farmers and ranchers. These companies also provide animal welfare auditor certification.

Mention of commercial enterprises or brand names does not constitute endorsement or imply preference by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

  • USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)

    AMS provides audit and accreditation programs for dairy, poultry, and other livestock based on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standards and/or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Principles and Guidelines. 

  • Validus Services

    Validus has Animal Welfare Review audit programs for the dairy, swine, egg, beef and poultry industries. They also audit pet breeders. 

  • Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO)

    PAACO trains auditors for the swine, dairy, poultry, beef cattle, and feedlot industries. They also provide a list of PAACO trained and certified auditors. 

  • Farm Animal Care Training and Auditing (FACTA), LLC.

    FACTA provides auditing services for poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, and quail), swine, rabbits, beef cattle, and dairy cattle. They also conduct animal welfare benchmarking to determine strengths and weaknesses in the animal welfare program.  

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