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September 27, 2013

Farm Beat: Survey finds wide support for humane treatment of livestock

Movement pioneered by Foster Farms and others is catching on

Foster Farms stands ready to solve a problem that has emerged in the grocery business.

A recent survey by the American Humane Association found that 89 percent of the 2,600 respondents are very concerned about the welfare of livestock on farms, but nearly 1,000 have trouble finding meat, eggs and dairy products certified as humane.

Livingston-based Foster Farms in March became the first major poultry producer in the West to have its chicken meat certified by the association. The label requires the company to undergo inspections to ensure that its chickens have enough feed and water, clean air and room to move around.

“The new American Humane Association survey shows concern for animal welfare is only getting stronger,” said Ira Brill, director of corporate communications for Foster Farms, in a news release. “Consumers want more choices for humanely raised meat and poultry.”

The group is not to be confused with the Humane Society of the United States, which has been more critical of how livestock are treated.

Foster Farms chickens are raised in large barns on about 140 ranches in California and the Pacific Northwest. The main processing plant is in Livingston.

The ranches are not free-range operations, but they do follow industry standards for population density, ventilation, feeding and other details.

Foster Farms officials said the label affirmed what the company already has done on behalf of chickens over the previous two years. This includes disciplining employees – up to dismissal – who put animals at risk of mistreatment and also dealing with co-workers who fail to report the abuse.

The survey found that the “humane” label was more important to respondents than “organic,” “natural” or “antibiotic-free.” And it said 74 percent are very willing to pay more for humanely raised products.

“Farm animal welfare is a growing issue in this country as values-driven consumers seek to better understand the role of animals in food products,” said Robin Ganzert, president and chief executive officer of the AHA.

The group also has certified J.S. West & Cos. of Modesto, the first egg producer to start enlarging laying-hen cages under state Proposition 208, which takes effect in 2015.

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