"A majority of the public indicate that they want to be able to make that choice [to buy humanely raised foods], and decisions such as that can make a profound impact on the lives of animals that are raised for food," says Ms. Prasad, citing two 2007 opinion surveys – one conducted by WSPA and one by Oklahoma State University, showing that 68 percent and 49 percent of respondents, respectively, felt concern for farm animal welfare.
Some animal scientists aver that, in general, the animal-agriculture industry is not intentionally inhumane.
"You see these things like PETA shows, with the dairy cows at the slaughterhouse and the pigs being kicked; that's not our standards," says Debbie Cherney, associate professor of animal science at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "Those are the bottom-feeders."
But any amount of maltreatment that goes on in meat and dairy production is unacceptable, Dr. Cherney says. "We can have a humane, sustainable system, even in light of rising food prices and more people in the world to feed."
In fact, meat production can't be sustainable without maintaining humane standards, so long as science is carefully applied to the definition of "humane," she says.
Certain standards, such as those pertaining to confinement and the ban of antibiotic treatments, for example, don't enter into the humane question. WSPA agrees, saying that "natural" and "organic" labels have no bearing on humane conditions.
"There's an entire scientific field designed to look at various aspects of behavior, and physiology, and production, to try to optimize production systems," says Joy Mench, animal-science professor at the University of California, Davis. She explains that it takes a delicate balance of health, behavioral, and economic considerations to achieve humane conditions for domesticated animals being raised for food.