Andrew Gunther joined Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) in April 2008 as Program Director. Previously, he was the Senior Global Animal Compassionate Product Procurement and Development Specialist for Whole Foods Market. Working with pasture-based farmers across the U.S. and Canada, AWA provides consumers reassurance that the milk, cheese, eggs and meat bearing the AWA seal come from family farmers using sustainable agriculture methods. With his wife and children, Andrew also pioneered the world's first organic poultry hatchery for chickens.
The Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) certification identifies farms that treat their
animals, from birth through death, with the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. The three main requirements are that the animals have a pasture or range, the farm must be independently owned, and the death of the animal must be humane. Andrew Gunther explains the reasoning behind these three requirements and describes his own acceptance of these farming strategies.
Douglas Gayeton: What does the term Animal Welfare Approved mean?
Andrew Gunther: Animal Welfare Approved is a program that identifies and certifies family farmers who are farming on pasture or range. The Animal Welfare Approved program is based on measurable outcomes that impact the animals’ welfare in terms of its well-being, food, water, environment, and its day-to-day care.
Douglas Gayeton: Can you describe specific elements of your program that would distinguish an AWA farm from a non-AWA farm?
Andrew Gunther: We have three key tenants. The first is pasture and range. We’re the only certification in the US that requires pasture or range and includes organic. There are two key benefits to pasture or range. Number one is the physiological behaviors of an animal. Cattle inherently live in these environments and become less sick and need fewer mutilations if they are kept on pasture. We know that omnivorous species like hogs and chickens naturally live at the edge of jungles. They root and forage for food. That’s where they’re best suited in terms of their physiological and physical well-being. We also know that pasture and range has a massive impact on carbon sequestration. FAQ reports say that pasture and range is one of the few ways we can feed the world sustainably.
The second distinguishing element is that we require independent ownership. We will not accept a multi-level corporate ownership situation. We don’t allow people who don’t own and have control of the animals to be the people that are certified.
The third tenant is that we are one of the only two programs in the US that examine animals from birth to death. Even organic doesn’t look at the death of the animal. It just looks at the traceability to the slaughter plant. We follow it from the moment it’s born to the moment it dies.
Douglas Gayeton: What made you want to focus on this issue during this time of your life?
Andrew Gunther: My family started farming purely for profit, but quickly saw the benefits of alternative production. At that point, I became a convert. The moment of epiphany was when our farm stayed together even without herbicides and pesticides. Despite not feeding every animal everything the drug company was trying to sell us, we didn’t see significant decrease in production.
Then you look at the benefits: the bird song, the cleaner skin, and the cleaner water. It’s a no brainer. It was a very long journey, but I learned you can do this without everything the drug companies endorse or scientists study. I’m still staying in business.