Whole Foods Adopts Transparent Animal Welfare Ratings

This summer I’ll celebrate a decade of being vegetarian (yeah, I’m getting old). Being a veggie isn’t always easy, and I can’t say I haven’t cheated on occasion (for some reason, I really craved buffalo wings when I first started), but year after year the cause has stayed important to me.

Image: http://pursuitist.com

Image: http://pursuitist.com

But this post isn’t about me; it’s about Whole Foods’ new animal welfare ratings. Last month, the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods announced the launch of the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards, a new labeling system designed to educate consumers on the living conditions of the meat (pigs, chickens and cattle) they eat.

What does it all mean? The ratings are determined by independent third-party certifiers using auditors trained by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP). Essentially, the higher the step, the better the conditions for the animal. Step 1 equals “no crates, no cages,” meaning the “animals live their lives with space to move around and stretch their legs.” Step 5+ means the animal has enjoyed Step 1-5, including a “pasture-centered” life and living only on one farm.

Though organizations like PETA have been remarkably silent, others have questioned the transparency of these standards, including Certified Humane which compares GAP with other ratings available to Whole Foods. To be fair, Certified Humane offers a competitive rating system to GAP’s so it’s bound to be pushing for the use of its standards, but some of the issues it raises are worth noting. Even at Step 5+, the best rating, GAP does not have standards for slaughtering, does not guarantee animals are allowed dark/sleep periods and does not ensure animals receive disease prevention health care.

Compassion is the number one reason I choose to avoid meat, and, as of 2003, 96% of Americans agree animals deserve "some" protection from harm and exploitation. While I would love to see greater transparency in Whole Foods’ current initiative and a shift from publicizing humane treatment to requiring it across its supply chain, I appreciate the operational challenges that must exist and personally applaud the company for taking this important first step.

In the meantime, I’m eager for Whole Foods to apply these standards to other animal products and bi-products and look forward to a day when Whole Foods expands the program to include Step 6: No animal life was sacrificed to produce this product.

- Jillian Wilson, Account Supervisor