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Farm animal welfare certification in Canada

In Canada, the following food certification programs address farm animal welfare:
SPCA Certified Logo

SPCA Certified

In the late 1990s, the BC SPCA decided it was time to introduce an animal welfare certification program to British Columbia and, in 2002, the program was officially launched.

It was developed with the goal of supporting change to animal welfare in BC through the use of scientific research and with the incorporation of third party audits for the agricultural industry. Standards are more stringent than those in Canada’s industry standard codes of practice and are based on the principles of the “five freedoms” for animals: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from distress; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being. To meet the standards, farmers must:

  • Not use battery cages for hens, tie stalls for cows and gestation or farrowing stalls for sows
  • Provide generous space allowances for each animal (in the case of laying hens, the minimum space exceeds industry standards by 300%)
  • Enrich the animals’ environment with nest boxes, perches, bedding and/or rooting material
  • Not dock the tails of dairy cows
  • Provide cattle with access to the outdoors
  • Use pain medication during dehorning & castration
  • Not use electric prods

More than twenty producers of eggs, chicken, pork, dairy and beef products are currently certified in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Since the program’s launch, nearly 1.8 million farm animals have been raised to BC SPCA farm animal welfare standards.

The program is voluntary and producers must apply, after which they are inspected and approved if they meet the SPCA Certified standards.

For more information on SPCA Certified, visit the BC SPCA website.


Certified Organic

In Canada, organic farmers are certified according to a single set of national standards — the Canadian Organic Standards. The standards for animal care are quite similar to the BC SPCA Certified standards, They include:

  • Prohibition on battery cages for hens, tie stalls for cows and gestation/farrowing stalls for sows
  • Minimum space requirements that far exceed industry standards
  • Nest boxes, perches, bedding and/or rooting material required
  • Prohibition on tail docking of dairy cows
  • Access to outdoors required for all animals
  • Prohibition on forced moulting of poultry

More than 2 million animals were raised to organic standards in Canada in 2008.

For more information on organic certification, see

CLS logo

Certified Local Sustainable (Local Food Plus)

This program, launched in 2006, certifies farmers based on practices in six categories: sustainable production, labour practices, native habitat preservation, animal welfare and on-farm energy use. In the category of animal welfare, all farmers must use the following mandatory practices:

  • Minimum space allowances for animals that significantly exceed industry standards
  • Outdoor access for cattle and sheep
  • Nest boxes and dust bathing areas for poultry
  • Allowing at least 5 months between birth and weaning for beef calves, and 3 weeks for piglets. Dairy calves must not be weaned until they reach 80 kg.

Farmers certified by Local Food Plus can be found in Ontario, British Columbia, Atlantic Canada and the Prairies.

For more information on Local Food Plus, visit their website here.

Unverified labels: free-range, free-run, cage-free, grass-fed…

In addition to the certification programs described above, there are various terms used on food packaging that are meant to address animal welfare concerns. For instance, the following terms are commonly seen on egg cartons:

  • Free-run: hens are kept in open barns, uncaged
  • Free-range: hens are kept in open barns, uncaged, with access to the outdoors.

It is important to note that hens raised in either of these cage-free systems may still be kept in very crowded conditions inside the barn. Furthermore, in Canada there is no independent inspection or verification to ensure that producers using these labels are in fact raising their animals in the method indicated.

In order to be sure that eggs or poultry products come from cage-free chickens, consumers in Canada should always look for certified organic, BC SPCA certified or Certified Local Sustainable products. Producers certified to meet these standards have been inspected to make sure their chickens are kept in free-range or free-run conditions, and also that they are given a minimum space allowance far higher than the industry norm.

The same goes for terms like “grass-fed”, “pasture-raised” and so on; producers who use these labels on their products have not been inspected to make sure they’re raising their animals in the method indicated, unless they are also certified under a program that includes that method in its requirements.

U.S. programs

Some prepared foods sold in Canada carry labels from U.S. certification programs, such as Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved and American Humane Certified. Learn more about these labels at

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