05/24/2013 05:43 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2013

Farm Forward's Will Put Humane Eating in Consumers' Hands

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By Tove K. Danovich

While discussing industrial animal agriculture in his book Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer wrote, "Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty, and the ability to choose against it. Or to choose to ignore it." For many people who read Safran Foer's book, deciding against cruelty has meant going around it, becoming vegetarian or even vegan. Yet there were many others who simply wanted to do things better.

For this latter group, the non-profit Farm Forward (where Safran Foer is a board member) is developing an application called Currently in the process of raising funds through Kickstarter, this app is the answer for people who are willing to spend a little bit more for humanely raised products but are confused by the labels.

By inputting the company or farmer's name on an egg carton or cellophane-wrapped drumsticks, customers will be able to use the app to pull up welfare standards of the farm in question. Both a quick rating and more detailed information will be shown for customers to get as much or little information as they want.

Executive Director Ben Goldsmith got the idea for after being regularly approached by friends and family who wanted to know if they should buy cage free, free range, organic, or if any of it really made a difference. "People want to make the best choices they can. You'd have to read a book or really do some research to get a general sense of what's going on," he said.

Farm Forward recognized that while many people were willing to spend more, not everyone wanted to put in the time to read a library on animal agriculture in the United States. While Farm Forward advocates for change in industrialized farming conditions of all animals, they focused exclusively on poultry for this app. Not only are nine billion chickens raised for food each year, they're afforded no protection under the law.

The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the only federal legislation protecting farm animals from slaughter, excludes chickens and turkeys entirely. This same lack of federal oversight applies to free range, organic, or pasture-raised birds. But, as Goldsmith said, "The truth is, more than 99 percent of poultry is coming from this system of what people call factory farms."

As the biggest wars are fought while making choices at the grocery store, this app -- similar to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program --  was designed to accompany customers as they push their carts through the aisles.

Though Farm Forward often does seem to lean toward a vegetarian ideal, they're willing to decrease consumption of factory farmed poultry by any methods necessary. "Farmers produce what consumers want," Goldsmith said, "if consumers are out there in large numbers saying that they'll spend a bit more for a product that is meaningfully more humane, farmers will do it. It's not that they can't; there just isn't a significant market."

For people who don't have access to animal products that are Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved, or raised by a local farmer, the app also will give customers the option to send a message -- right from their phones -- to the grocery store asking them to provide more options. will also allow customers to tell large producers to step up their standards or thank farmers for doing something right.

Goldsmith projects that the first version of the application should be ready within the next 12 months, subject to hiccups along the way. They've gotten support from consumers, advocates, retailers and producers. For many reasons and from many backgrounds, people are rallying to give consumers the information they need to choose the products they want.

"That's why we've moved forward and come this far," Goldsmith said. "No matter how good of a job we do producing, no matter how complete the listings, or how much money we can raise on Kickstarter, the success of this project will be determined by consumers. If the consumers want to change the way turkeys and chickens are treated and make a difference, they can use this app and we can accomplish a lot."

Originally published on Food Politic.