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Ashoka Fellow since 2008   |   United States

Adele Douglass

Humane Farm Animal Care
Douglass is creating a market-driven solution to improve the lives of farm animals, while at the same time helping compassionate farmers gain a competitive edge against agribusiness and assuring…
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Humane Farm Animal Care
This description of Adele Douglass's work was prepared when Adele Douglass was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.


Douglass is creating a market-driven solution to improve the lives of farm animals, while at the same time helping compassionate farmers gain a competitive edge against agribusiness and assuring consumers that their meats and dairy products are certified humane.

The New Idea

In order to reshape the U.S. farm agriculture system to reward humane farming, Adele is educating Americans about how their food is produced and helping them to make value-driven decisions in the aisles of the neighborhood grocery store. Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) offers the only comprehensive labeling program that lets consumers know their meat and dairy products are Certified Humane Raised and Handled™ via an easy-to-identify package label.

As Adele likes to say, the Certified Humane program begins with animals, but it is all about people who want to change the way food is produced. There is a growing demand for products from animals raised in accord with humane care standards, a demand escalated by best-selling books, the media, advocacy and popular culture. Educated consumers want those farmers who treat animals and workers humanely to stand out from the competition and to prosper. HFAC’s program gives them the means to identify those farmers and reward them with their business.

The certification program uses scientifically based animal welfare standards, an annual third-party inspection, and a transparent certification process to provide a competitive advantage to food producers by building credibility and buyer confidence, providing publicity, and introducing new and loyal markets, as well as higher prices, for farmers. Research shows that costs for Certified Humane products fall about mid-way between organic and commodity prices, a threshold that many American consumers are willing to consider if it means better treatment of animals and farm workers. By making savvy shoppers part of the equation, Certified Humane products are not only saving farm animals from lives of misery, they are helping to save the family farm as well.

HFAC is endorsed by some twenty humane organizations, including the two largest, the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, giving HFAC access to nearly 20 million constituents through extensive publicity on their websites and in mailings. The members of these groups are the most natural target market for Certified Humane products. By having entrée into these groups and the positive perception they enjoy, HFAC has been able to grow and to reach out to a wide range of farmers and producers, wholesalers, grocers, institutional buyers such as hospitals and schools, as well as individuals who want more wholesome and humane choices.

HFAC is also itself accredited by the International Standards Organization (ISO), which not only reassures the market but also provides accountability that the program’s standards, certification process and inspection process are as represented.

The Problem

Each year, over 10 billion animals raised for food in the U.S. endure inhumane treatment. Most are confined such that they cannot move or behave normally. Chickens cannot open their wings; pigs cannot turn around. Crowding and stress from these conditions compromise animals’ immune systems. They must ingest antibiotics regularly to prevent disease. These “factory farms” use the technology and production methods of the assembly line to raise animals for food. To profit, they keep more animals in less space and employ techniques to maximize growth rates. The current system of factory farms causes problems not just for the animals but for consumers and the environment as well.

Inhumane practices are the norm to keep prices as low as possible, but the cost to humans is high. Industrial farms pay lower wages than smaller farms, reducing local per capita income. Factory farms often expose workers to hazardous conditions and unrealistic levels of output. Hormones used for rapid growth end up in the meat we eat. Factory farms rely heavily on antibiotics for all animals, not just the sick ones, which results in drug-resistant strains of bacteria that are causing illnesses in people that cannot easily be treated. And caged animals produce toxins that end up in meat as well.

Some farmers have tried to change the system by treating both their workers and their animals fairly while also being better stewards of the land, but so far most have not earned a fair price for their products. Humanely raised meat and dairy are often treated as “gourmet” or premium products by consumers who do not understand how food is produced. Powerful retailers demand low prices, giving in to alternative options only when consumer demand warrants. Federal legislation to improve the system is not feasible since farm practices are generally regarded as states’ rights issues.

Ultimately, the costs to society of factory farms’ inhumane practices are not calculated into the cost of meat, eggs and milk at the grocery store, but we all pay in the long run for these transgressions.

The Strategy

At the heart of Humane Farm Animal Care is a rigorous inspection program that outlines specific practices for the raising, handling and slaughtering of cows, pigs, sheep, turkeys, goats and chickens. The standards address appropriate feed for animals, how much space they need to engage in natural behaviors, training for farm workers, and other conditions of humane farming. These standards are viable for farmers to implement and operate profitably as an alternative to factory farming.

A 43-page manual, available in four languages, explains in detail the inspection process so farmers and producers know exactly what is expected. Inspection fees are kept low to encourage as many farmers as possible to participate in the program. In its first five years, HFAC certified sixty companies. By 2007, the program covered 20 million animals at the efficient cost of three cents per animal.

In addition to ISO certification and endorsements by major humane groups, HFAC has received independent evaluation from several outside organizations. Consumers Union rated the program “highly meaningful,” and USA Today dubbed it “the gold standard.” A study by the Hartman Group showed the “Certified Humane” label is more seen, understood and trusted than other older and more established eco-labels. The organization has received extensive, favorable media coverage. The website (also in four languages) receives an average of 4,000 new visitors a month.

HFAC is operating nationwide, recruiting farmers, ranchers and other food producers through outreach at trade and industry events, as well as through direct contact. By showing businesses how humane farm animal care can meet their bottom-line interests, Adele has been welcomed to the table by the industry, serving on various animal welfare committees for the Food Marketing Institute, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, and Burger King, and was in 2003 the keynote speaker at the Animal Welfare Conference of the American Meat Institute.

Adele is persuasive. Even though she has worked for the animal welfare movement for many years—the same organizations who have vilified the farming and meat industries—she is able to reach these industries with her gracious but tenacious ways. She speaks to producers in their own language, explaining the market-driven concept and showing them how to differentiate their products in the marketplace. HFAC shows producers how certification allows them to solidify loyalty with existing customers and attract new customers by providing independent validation of their farming practices. A growth strategy is encouraging retailers to require their producers to become “Certified Humane.”

Adele is also adept at using the media, the Internet, and her partnerships with humane organizations to reach compassionate consumers willing to be changemakers. Her message inspires them to share her vision and to demand humane products. Research shows that this audience understands that better animal care leads to better food and farming. This consumer demand in turn motivates retailers, restaurants and food service companies to find qualifying producers and pay them fairly, and to ask for change from existing suppliers. Whole Foods, Stop and Shop, Heinen’s, D’Agostino’s and other large retailers carry “Certified Humane” products and ask their producers to participate in the program, and there are dozens of smaller retailers in every state that carry the products. Safeway indicated that they were putting out an RFP to their cage free egg suppliers that they must be “Certified Humane.”

The organization invests heavily in its credibility and standards. Maintaining ISO accreditation is a top priority, as are high-quality standards and total transparency of the inspection process. Inspectors—all of whom hold advanced degrees in veterinary or animal science—are trained in both the classroom and through a field apprenticeship. The inspections are truly animal welfare audits, and the inspectors are extremely knowledgeable about the species they are inspecting; they are not just “checking off boxes.” They take the time to educate farmers about best practices, and create a collaborative rather than adversarial relationship. The cost of an inspector is $450 per day, and smaller farmers can share the cost if they are close enough for inspectors to visit them both in a single day.

The Scientific Committee, which created and maintains the certification standards, is made up of leading animal scientists, veterinarians and producers. They continually review new information pertaining to improving the lives of farm animals, and keep the standards up-to-date and practical. They also educate farmers on the latest research, bringing them information they might have no other means of getting and understanding.

Adele and her team are generous about sharing their knowledge and expertise. They often host delegations from other countries who want to learn about their inspection and certification program, and they freely share the standards and encourage programs in other countries to use them to create parallel programs around the world.

The Certified Humane program, once it reaches the sufficient scale, will be self-sustaining, based on certification and inspection fees. Current projections are that HFAC will reach that goal in 2014, when producer income reaches $822M (2007 income was $168M). That corresponds to 100 million animals covered by the program, a forecast that assumes 30 percent annual growth—the average for the past three years—through 2011, declining to 25 percent in 2012, 20 percent in 2013, and 15 percent in years 2014. Additional funds are needed for consumer education, and HFAC has ongoing fundraising and active partnerships with other organizations to increase its voice in the national market.

The Person

Adele has been a problem-solver all her life, organizing her school friends and figuring out how to get through the obstacles of life in a dysfunctional family. She learned to be an activist at a young age, marching with her mother and sisters for civil rights. As a young working mother of three, she helped organize one of the first afterschool programs to provide working parents with affordable, high-quality after-school care in order to prevent “latch key kids” being home alone.

Her entire career has been dedicated to serving those with no voice, particularly children and animals. She first came to Washington to work in the office of Rep. Bill Green (R-NY), developing legislation in the areas of agriculture, public lands, commerce, education and animal protection. She served as a liaison to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and helped with appropriations to create the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Rep. Green, well known for his willingness to “reach across the aisle,” taught Adele the value of bipartisanship and the need to work with those with whom you do not always agree.

In 1987, she became Vice President, Public Policy for the American Humane Association, and established the Colorado organization’s Washington office. She led the senior management team in lobbying for legislation protecting children and animals, including the Horse Transport and Slaughter Act, the Turtle Protection Act, and other bills to protect marine mammals, dolphins, endangered species, elephants, and farm animals. She was instrumental in the passage of several major animal welfare laws, including one requiring the National Institutes of Health to develop less harmful animal testing, and the Pet Theft Act to reduce the sale of stolen animals for medical research.

Like many in animal welfare, Adele describes a pivotal moment: the first time she visited an industrial farm and saw the suffering of animals destined for the American dinner table. “I saw hens packed into cages in which they couldn’t stand or sit. Their screeching expressed their suffering. At another facility, I saw pregnant sows that couldn’t move except to stand up and lie down. They gnawed on the bars of their stalls in frustration. I was horrified. I was sure other people would also be appalled if they had any idea that their food came from animals that were treated like that.”

Despite her background on Capitol Hill, she knew that legislation was not the solution to such an urgent problem. Instead, she talked to farmers and found out that cost was their main obstacle to raising animals more humanely. They said that if citizens were willing to pay more for humanely raised meat, they would make the required changes. Adele realized that they, too, were trapped by the system, and concluded that the solution for both farmers and animals was the market.

Adele initially launched her idea for a humane farm animal certification process as a separate program, funded by the AHA. When the organization refused to continue funding the program unless it was allowed to be diluted through industry involvement, Adele quit and started her own 501(c)(3) organization, Humane Farm Animal Care, in 2003. The organization met its goals for the first five years—establishment of standards, ISO certification, expansion to cover 20 million farm animals per year—and is poised to grow strongly over the next decade.

Adele’s leadership has been recognized by numerous industry groups. In 2006, she received the ASPCA’s Lifetime Achievement Award honoring her twenty-five years of advocacy for children and animals’ rights. And in 2007, she was one of fifteen winners of The Purpose Prize, selected by Civic Ventures as an individual over age sixty who has “the passion and creativity to discover new opportunities, the experience to come up with practical solutions, and the determination to make lasting change.”

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