AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market  here has introduced a new “5-step Animal Welfare Rating” system developed by Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit organization focused on improvements in animal agriculture. The system relies on independent, third-party certifiers who audit farms and rate animal welfare practices using a tiered system, according to a release issued by Whole Foods.
At minimum, all of the company's meat suppliers must raise animals on a vegetarian diet without the use of antibiotics or artificial hormones. Farms rated “Step 1” do not use crates or cages, and their animals live in uncrowded conditions, while “Step 2” animals also enjoy an enriched environment. “Step 3” farms achieve both of those goals, and allow their animals enhanced outdoor access. “Step 4” farms are pasture-centered, “Step 5” farms are considered “animal centered” and “Step 5+”, the highest rating, is awarded to animal-centered farms where animals are raised from birth to slaughter on a single farm.
“Producers need to meet approximately 100 requirements to get a Step 1 certification, so achieving the first level is a remarkable accomplishment,” Anne Malleau, global animal production and welfare coordinator for Whole Foods, said in a company announcement.
“Whole Foods Market is able to adopt the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system thanks to the true partnerships we have with our producers who put just as much emphasis on the lives of their farm animals as they do on ensuring high-quality products.”
The system will bring additional transparency to the company's sourcing policies, and will offer Whole Foods' shoppers a way to make more informed choices at the meat counter, the company said. More than 1,200 farms and ranches that supply the company have already received certification under the new Step system.
“With an overarching goal to continuously improve the lives of farm animals, Global Animal Partnership's 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system is one of the single most impactful programs we have implemented to date at Whole Foods Market,” said A.C. Gallo, president and chief operating officer for Whole Foods.
“Our customers have long been asking for information on the raising practices on the farms and ranches that provide products to our stores. We are proud to adopt this new rating system that helps shoppers make even more informed buying decisions while offering them peace of mind that the animals from our producers are raised with care.”