February 8, 2011

Whole Foods Market Inc. is implementing a new animal welfare rating system for its meats and other livestock products that officials say will help improve the lives of farm animals.


The five-step rating system, which was enacted in coordination with the nonprofit Global Animal Partnership, uses a tiered system starting at step 1 (animals aren’t kept in cages, crates or crowded) to the highest tier - where animals spend their entire lives on the same farm. Color-coded tags will let shoppers know how various products are rated. Check out a complete list of standards for cattle, chickens and pigs here.

Officials say the system will help shoppers make more informed choices while rewarding producers who have made the biggest strides in animal welfare.

“Everybody is encouraged to really embrace continuous improvement in animal agriculture, which is really the singular aim of the Global Animal Partnership,” said Miyun Park, the group’s executive director.

Whole Foods founder John Mackey serves on the board of the nonprofit group, which is comprised of farmers, retailers, scientists, and animal rights groups to promote animal welfare.

The group developed the ratings system and worked on a pilot program with Whole Foods over the last two years.

Park said that she’s having conversations with other retailers about the ratings system.

Whole Foods President and Chief Operating Officer A.C. Gallo called it “one of the single most impactful programs” the company has ever implemented.

“Our customers have long been asking for information on the raising practices on the farms and ranches that provide products to our stores,” Gallo said in a release.

Officials say it’s a new level of transparency for the natural foods grocer.

“In my 20 years of working with ranchers and farmers, this is the largest commitment to improving farm animal welfare that I have seen. Producers need to meet approximately 100 requirements to get a Step 1 certification, so achieving the first level is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Anne Malleau, Whole Foods global animal production and welfare coordinator

Of course, the grocer already has its own longstanding meat standards. For instance, animals must be raised on vegetarian diets without antibiotics or growth hormones.

According to the company, all fresh and pre-packaged beef, pork and chicken will be rated by May 9.

And while the program is starting with those groups (which make up a majority of sales), eventually all of Whole Foods meats will be rated under the new system, said Steve Hellmann, meat coordinator for the grocer’s southwest region.

“Our goal is to affect as many farm animal lives as possible,” Hellmann said.

Source: statesman.com