If past is indeed prologue, we won’t be bashful. In any given year, the United States spends nearly $2.4 billion on food for Thanksgiving.
Each year, 51 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving, which comes to 736 million pounds. Since the 1970s, turkey consumption has increased more than 100 percent. To meet rising demand, food producers now raise seven billion pounds worth of turkeys on an annual basis — the equivalent of 10 Empire State Buildings combined.
As food production reaches unprecedented levels, it becomes imperative to raise that food humanely. Farm animals deserve nothing less. In fact, American consumers demand it: According to research by American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization and the largest certifier of animal welfare in the world, more than 90 percent of people surveyed are “very concerned” about animal welfare, and they consider the consumption of humanely raised products to be “very important.”
But in 2018, Americans are largely removed from food production. Barely one percent of the U.S. labor force works in agriculture — down from one-third a century ago and over 70 percent two centuries ago. Despite being removed from the industry, the average consumer is more concerned about farm animal welfare than ever before. Recent research suggests nearly 70 percent of Americans want to know what farmers and ranchers are doing to ensure humane food practices.
Concern has also given way to cynicism, only exacerbated by the decline in family farms and explosion of agribusiness. According to Gallup polling, only 10 percent of Americans trust Big Business — including food companies — a “great deal.” In fact, the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population doesn’t trust corporate America to “do what is right.”
Facing growing disenchantment, food producers can stand up and do the right thing — by publicly displaying their commitment to farm animal welfare. Third-party certification can dispel distrust among ethically conscious consumers, who demand that food producers undergo independent audits to ensure humane practices. With most Americans disengaged from the agricultural process, humane certification is the most public display of ethically conscious food production.
That’s why American Humane is elevating third-party certification to new heights, through the American Humane Certified program. On a daily basis, we encourage America’s food producers to meet about 200 science-basis standards, covering everything from adequate space to proper heating, cooling, lighting, quality of air, food and water, and humane treatment. The companies that receive our American Humane Certified seal agree to undergo completely independent, third-party audits to ensure those humane standards are being met.
Working together, we’re making a lot of progress. American Humane now certifies nearly one billion cows, chickens, goats, pigs, and turkeys — yes, many of the turkeys that will find their way to your Thanksgiving dinner table.
In a sense, Turkey Day celebrates how important food producers are to American society writ large. We depend on farmers and ranchers to sustain our daily lives — not just on Thanksgiving, but throughout the year.
But we can also celebrate how far food production has come, as a record number of companies demonstrate their commitment to farm animal welfare.
Let’s give thanks for that.
Dr. Robin Ganzert is the president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization.