The most common question CETFA receives is from consumers hoping to make more ethical food choices and wondering what products to buy. We share below some of our experience with the animal food production system, and provide tips and suggestions which we hope will be useful to guide you towards a more compassionate diet and lifestyle.
I. Finding animal products that do not come from factory-farmed animals
If you are not considering giving up animal products altogether, you may want to make sure that you do not purchase products from animals raised in factory-farms conditions. Finding these products can be very challenging because, at present, Canada has no product labelling laws governing animal welfare. As a result, most labels are not a reliable source of information to consider animal welfare factors when buying animal products (meat, cheese, milk, butter, eggs) or processed food containing animal ingredients.
For example, producers may freely use a variety of terms, such as “farm fresh”, “animal-friendly”, or “quality assured”, when there are no standards to compare the production methods to, and no inspections to assess the claims. Labels such as “natural”, “grain-fed”, or “vegetarian” are used to appeal to health conscious consumers but do typically nothing to improve the welfare of farmed animals. Under many of the aforementioned labels, animals continue to live in overcrowded, dark, dirty sheds often infested with flies and mice.
In the same way, there are no inspections to assess claims made on “free-run”, “free-range”, or “cage-free” labels. In addition, animals raised on such farms often still suffer from the same painful mutilations as animals raised on conventional factory farms. The majority also continue to live in filthy, windowless warehouses, crammed together with little access to the outdoors, if any. Hens with a drop in production, if not killed on farm in often inadequate conditions, are still transported in inhumane conditions to the same slaughterhouses used by factory farms where a high percentage are scalded to death or dismembered while still conscious.
Labels that are thought to be more meaningful regarding the conditions in which animals are raised are the SPCA Certified and Organic labels (under the SPCA certified standards and the Canadian Organic standards, respectively). In both cases, producers may be subjected to inspections, and the standards aim to mitigate or eliminate some of the most cruel industry practices. For instance, under both certification programs, battery cages for hens and gestation stalls for sows are prohibited. However, many cruel practices are still allowed.
The Canadian organic standards, for example, allows lactating dairy cows to be kept confined in controversial tie stalls during lactation, simply recommend pain medication for castration and branding, and do not allow access to pasture for pigs or breeding males. The SPCA standards allow mother pigs to be confined in restrictive farrowing stalls in which the animals cannot even turn around or lie comfortably for 28 days, and require access to pasture only for dairy, beef cattle and sheep (post weaning). This means that SPCA certified eggs, pork or poultry meat may still come from animals confined inside sheds who have never been allowed outdoors.
In addition, none of these standards address the fact that babies are removed from their mothers at birth or shortly after, and that the animals typically have a greatly reduced life span as they are killed at a young age (broiler chickens live just 35 days; market-weight pigs just 5-6 months). Also, animals may still be transported and slaughtered in the same cruel manner industrially-raised animals are.
In cases where CETFA inspectors have investigated welfare claims, the assertions have generally proven fraudulent. These include pig producers who charge a premium and label their pork as “humane” and “free range” when in fact the pigs were raised in standard factory farm conditions; ducks, geese and turkeys sold as “organic” and “free range” who were forced to live in filthy, squalid conditions with dead and decaying birds scattered among the living; and eggs marketed as “natural, fresh and wholesome” from hens confined into tiny battery cages for their entire adult lives.
Because of these experiences, and because CETFA does not have the manpower to inspect every producer of meat, dairy and eggs across Canada, we are unable to confidently state that any specific producer or company is working in compliance with its claims.
If you want to continue consuming meat, dairy and eggs but want to source them from the least cruel means possible, you may want instead to source and visit the producers yourself. If the animals are truly free range and raised under high welfare standards, the producer will be proud of his or her operation and happy to show you around. A good place to start is by visiting a farmer’s market where you can meet the producers, learn about their operation and schedule a time to visit their farm.
II. Reducing one’s consumption of animal products
Animal farming is linked to environmental degradation and resources depletion, and an increasing number of scientists and organizations – including the ONU – are calling on people to reduce their overall consumption of animal products.
Reduce one’s overall consumption of animal products is an important yet easy action that anyone can take to help farmed animals, the planet and oneself (many studies show links between good health and decrease consumption of animal products). To do so, you may simply decide to remove animal products from your plate a number of times a week, or replace your traditional animal products with one of the many widely available plant-based alternatives. To help you find your way through these alternatives, we provide you below with some tips on what to look for, and what alternatives you can use for meat, dairy and eggs.
Meat alternatives: Look for brands like Yves, Gardein, Tofurkey, which carry all sorts of processed meat alternatives such as sausages and bacon. Tofu is also readily available and has the advantage of taking the flavour of what it is cooked with. Seitan and Tempeh are two other possible meat alternatives.
Dairy alternatives: To replace butter, look for margarines without whey powder like Fleshman, or for the butter-like alternative from Earth Balance. Dairy milk can easily be replaced with one of the many vegetarian milks available: soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk and coconut milk. These milks taste very differently based on their composition, and even between brands, so if you try a plant-based milk you do not like, do not give up and try others. Plant-based ice creams are also getting readily available, and it is now possible to find some plant-based sour cream (try Toffuti), cream cheese (Toffuti, Daiya), and various types of cheeses (Daiya).
Egg alternatives:Different alternatives to eggs can be used, depending on the dish you are making.
If eggs are leavening agents in a recipe, they can be replaced with:
- Egg Replacer – Sold in a box often in the baking section. Contains any variety of starches. Mix with water and you have an instant binder. Use in baking as a leavening agent, and to bind ingredients together (casserole, loaf, etc.).
- Baking Soda – A popular leavening agent in many recipes.
- Vinegar or lemon juice – For each cup required: pour 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar in a glass measuring cup. Add in soy milk to equal 1 cup. Stir and let stand for 10 minutes. For each cup you add to a recipe, reduce the baking powder by 2 teaspoons and add in 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. If the recipe uses less than 2 tsp baking powder, then reduce it by 1 teaspoon and add in ¼ teaspoon of baking soda for each cup.
If eggs are binders, they can be replaced with:
- Tofu – Tofu (firm, medium or silken), works in many recipes to mimic the consistency of eggs (for ex. frittata, quiche, egg salad) and to bind ingredients. Just drain off the water the tofu is packed in, then you’re set to use it.
- Other alternatives are: arrowroot, soy, lecithin, flax seed, pureed fruit or vegetables and agar agar. The ratio for each egg replaced is ¼ cup of the substitute.
If eggs are to add liquid, alternatives include:
- Bananas – Especially good in baked foods (pancakes, muffins, and breads). Mash or blend approximately ½ a banana per egg being replaced. Bananas won’t help your dish rise or turn out light and fluffy, so be sure to add a bit of baking powder or baking soda to help it rise if needed.
- Apple sauce – Also adds moisture in baked foods. Blend approximately ¼ cup of applesauce per egg being replaced. Fruit Juice, soy milk, water or other pureed fruit can also be used.
To add a cheesy flavour to “eggs” – Add yeast flakes (sold in most grocery and bulk stores).
To add a yellow colour to tofu – Sprinkle with turmeric (a spice) or nutritional yeast.