FOODS PRODUCED UNDER humane conditions gained a toehold in supermarkets this year.
The food industry appealed to consumers who are concerned about animal welfare. Producers and retailers increased their selection of foods that qualify for “humane” status under a third-party certification program. Heinen's Fine Foods, Warrensville Heights, Ohio, has committed to expanding its offering of products that meet standards set by Humane Farm Animal Care, a nonprofit organization based in Herndon, Va.
Heinen's is committed to the humane treatment of farm animals, and plans to ramp up its product selection, Tom Heinen, co-owner of the 16-unit chain, told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.
“We believe a certification program gives customers the added assurance that a third party is setting high standards for the treatment of farm animals,” he said.
Earlier this year, Larchmont, N.Y.-based D'Agostino announced plans to encourage all suppliers to become certified. D'Agostino, which has most of its stores in Manhattan, was the first retailer to make a commitment to humane-certified products in its meat and dairy departments. This year, the 25-store chain rolled out veal, and put the subcategory in the spotlight. Officials credited the effort with pushing meat sales up 25%.
For the first time, D'Agostino introduced dairy products that qualify for HFAC's seal of approval.
Judging by the number of HFAC certifications this year, retailers will have an increasing variety of products. Producers seeking the credential from HFAC increased from 39 at the end of 2005 to 56 this month, and HFAC executive director Adele Douglass said there are more than 14 million farm animals certified. That compares to 143,000 in 2003, when HFAC was launched.
The living conditions of laying hens received attention, too. A handful of retailers and universities pledged to source only eggs from cage-free chickens. While 98% of eggs in this country are produced in conventional ways, producers are looking into niche-market eggs, including those from cage-free hens, as a way to boost revenue.
This year, egg producers using conventional housing defended their techniques. Modern confinement methods offer a measure of protection against avian flu, the producers said.
“The way to prevent bird flu is to limit contact between wild and domestic birds,” said Jeff Armstrong, dean of the college of agriculture and natural resources at Michigan State University and chairman of the United Egg Producers' scientific advisory committee.