Skip to main content
Animal Welfare

How do the ingredients in this product impact the welfare of animals?

Jemima Snow avatar
Written by Jemima Snow
Updated over a week ago

What is Animal Welfare?

The Animal Welfare metric is one of HowGood’s eight core sustainability metrics. It takes into account the conditions under which the animals involved in the production of a given ingredient are raised and treated, for products that contain animal-derived ingredients. This includes an assessment of feed, physical alterations, space requirements, the ability to engage in natural behavior, and the likelihood of direct abuse. Our scoring system acknowledges that there are agricultural systems in which humans can raise animals with high welfare standards. These include fully pasture-raised or wild-culled scenarios in which the animal only experiences “one bad day” in its life due to human interaction.

The Animal Welfare metric is based on the Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) framework and has been designed to provide consistent measurement of animal welfare standards across every animal species, and the food system broadly.

How does Animal Welfare relate to agriculture, product development, and the food system?

Conditions that lead to poor animal welfare such as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) pose a serious threat to public health, the environment, and the food supply system beyond the animals' well-being alone.

Feedlot livestock can have an extremely poor quality of life, are often given sub-therapeutic antibiotics, and live in cramped quarters with little or no outdoor exposure. Feedlot animals often subsist on high-impact, species-inappropriate feed that is designed to maximize weight gain and therefore the yield of the butchered animal. The unnatural diet and associated weight gain increases the likelihood of disease and drives the use of antibiotics.

In the last 50 years, the average number of hogs per farm in America increased from 37 to 1,044, while the number of hog farms fell from 1.85 million to 63,000.

This concentration of animals is often associated with poor management practices including the use of farrowing/gestation crates in a permanent, indoor housing structure. Overcrowding of animals in a stagnant indoor environment results in concentrated levels of manure, which has detrimental effects on the animals’ health. Pigs in particular are highly intelligent animals who suffer greatly from a lack of environmental stimulation. Space to move around freely and continuous access to bedding are the minimum requirements to meet their physical and emotional needs.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, new hazards and externalities are presenting themselves. The Coronavirus that sparked the pandemic is a zoonotic virus, meaning it originated in one species, (in this case bats), mutated, and “jumped” to another, (pigs), and then to humans. CAFOs are an ideal environment for viruses to make this jump, and have been the site of such mutations in the recent past. These operations breed nearly identical organisms which makes the population more susceptible to widespread infection and/or illness. Then they house hundreds or thousands in extremely close quarters, which gives the virus many hundreds and thousands of chances to mutate, and makes controlling an outbreak exceptionally difficult.

In 2014, an outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu began on the pacific coast of North America and spread throughout the United States. The outbreak resulted in the death or euthanization of more than 50 million chickens and turkeys and a serious disruption of poultry supply chains nationally and globally.

Similarly, the bovine spongiform encephalopathy or “mad cow” disease outbreak that occurred in the United Kingdom throughout the 1980s and 1990s was a result of livestock cattle being fed species-inappropriate feed. Cattle were fed a supplemental protein that contained the remains of other animals, which spread the human equivalent variant of the disease (Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease) to humans who consumed the beef. More than four million head of cattle were slaughtered and 178 people died as a result of contracting the disease.

What are the biggest contributors to poor Animal Welfare impact?

  1. Extractive industrial CAFOs

  2. Limited space

  3. Poor feed quality:

    • Grain feed for ruminants which is not a part of their natural diet

    • High protein feed designed to increase weight gain

  4. Physical alterations of the animal such as de-horning, -beaking, and -tusking

  5. Limited ability to engage in natural behavior like grazing, foraging, and rooting

  6. High risk of direct abuse

How do we measure Animal Welfare impact?

To earn a positive assessment, a product must contain animal-derived ingredients that are pasture-raised or equivalent, and ruminants must be pasture-finished. Animal density should not preclude the possibility of a forage-based diet, though minimal feed supplementation is permitted.

Animal Welfare is calculated by first determining whether a product contains animal-derived ingredients. Products that contain animal-derived ingredients will factor in an animal's feed, the physical alterations endured, space requirements, the animal’s ability to engage in natural behavior, the likelihood of direct abuse to the animal, and the slaughter methods associated with that animal system and location. The range for farm-raised animals extends from conventionally raised pork, where highly restrictive enclosures and significant physical alterations are the norm, to 100% pastured ruminants where physical alterations are minimal, adequate space is standard, and species’ specific behaviors are easily expressed.

What if my products don’t include animal ingredients?

Because Animal Welfare is one of the eight core metrics that make up the HowGood Impact Score, HowGood assigns the highest score for Animal Welfare to plant-based products. Plant-based products receive the highest score because they do not drive demand for animal agriculture and the poor animal welfare standards that it often entails. We engage customers in dialogue on this methodological step, accepting and considering feedback that matches our approach of striving for maximum consistency and applicability across the food system.

Animal Welfare Threshold Distribution Definitions:

Ingredients Along the Animal Welfare Impact Spectrum:

Key Data Sources

How does my ingredient portfolio compare to others in the industry when it comes to Animal Welfare?

To see how your Animal Welfare impact stacks up against the industry average, you can benchmark your portfolio score and metric averages here.

What is the relationship to the HowGood Impact Score?

Animal Welfare is one of the eight core metrics that make up the HowGood Impact Score. To learn more about the HowGood Impact Score and how Animal Welfare influences it, click here.

How to improve impact as a product developer

  1. Switch to plant-based if possible, as it eliminates animal welfare risk altogether. That being said, plant-based ingredients are not inherently good and carry many risks of their own such as soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and high water impact.

  2. Apply standards and certifications such as GAP, Land to Market, and Regenerative Organic in order to eliminate the possibility of CAFOs and increase the quality of life for the animals in your supply system.

Further Resources

Did this answer your question?