Is your food more humane? S.P.C.A. asks

The S.P.C.A. is lobbying to have special labels put on food so consumers can tell how the animals involved were treated.

A label on egg cartons would say whether the chickens were kept in a cage, or were allowed to wander around.

S.P.C.A. officials point to Britian's example. An organization called "Freedom Foods" has managed to get certain grocery items labelled as humane.

One producer of eggs saw its sales balloon after it got the special mark from 100,000 eggs sold in 1994 to eight million in 2000.

But the idea is having trouble gaining a foothold in Canada.

Chicken farmers resistant to idea

Some farmers say its not a matter of whether the animal is treated right, it comes down to good farming practices.

Chicken farmers say free-range hens tend to have a poorer diet and a higher mortality rate whereas ones kept in cages eat better and live longer.

In B.C., the animal organization has set up a communal farm with the industry to test out what works and what doesn't.

Officials found out that the age old practice of cutting off a cow's tail to improve hygiene didn't really make much of a difference.

The S.P.C.A. says it wants to suggest more humane ways of farming that will also make sense to farmers new methods that may actually expand their pocketbooks while improving the lives of the animals.

At the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, price isn't what's important. Officials there want more consultation before approving the labels.

"We have to develop rules and global strategies," says Gord Doonan of the CFIA.

Meanwhile, the S.P.C.A. says it will keep pushing its agenda because it sees the issue as an investment in the future.