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5-Step Chicken: What’s in a Number?

If you’ve visited our stores in the last week or so, you may have already seen the new signs and package labels in our meat department for the 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Standards. Very exciting! This multi-tiered program – the signature program of the Global Animal Partnership – rates how farm animals are raised using independent, third-party certifiers to audit farms and assess their compliance to the different Step level standards. It’s been a big undertaking and approximately 1200 farms that supply our stores have been audited and certified! We thought you might appreciate learning a bit more about the different Step levels and the welfare they afford the chickens, pigs and cattle. Today, we’ll start with our feathered friends – chickens — and we’ll cover the other two in later posts. So, here’s what the different Step levels mean for broiler chickens. Step 1, Producers need to meet approximately 100 different standards to achieve a Step 1 certification for their birds – including providing good quality bedding (which promotes good health and welfare and allows birds to dustbathe), a maximum transport time of eight hours, and birds must not be given antibiotics or animal by-products in their feed. Each Step builds on the previous one. So birds in a Step 2 system are raised in similar conditions as Step 1 and additionally are provided with enrichments that encourage behavior that’s natural to them, such as pecking, perching and foraging. Our suppliers have found some innovative ways to do this, such as adding hay bales — it’s great to walk into a barn and see the birds pecking at the hay, standing on top of the bales, and pulling them apart.  It might sound simple, but the birds really make the most of this more interesting environment!  Other producers have used eucalyptus branches for the birds to peck at and explore. One of the big differences at Step 3 is that birds have access to the outdoors during the day. There must be shade and provisions so the birds can hide from hawks and other aerial predators, and isolate themselves,  so they feel comfortable being outdoors and get to enjoy roaming around outside the barn. ) Step 4 is the first pasture-based Step. Birds at Step 4 live continuously on pasture or in foraging areas and are only housed at night or when seasonal conditions might put them at risk. Pasture is an area of grasses managed to provide nourishment as well as a mat of vegetation under their feet.  A foraging area doesn’t need to have grass but can include bushes and low trees that provide areas where the birds can nestle and not be visible to aerial predators.  And, since chickens are descendents of Junglefowl, this gives them the perfect environment to keep busy pecking, exploring and foraging for bugs! Steps 5 and 5+ are much more challenging to achieve. At Step 5, birds are bred to thrive in an outdoor environment and must be raised in small flocks. Several of our local suppliers have been able to reach this prestigious Step rating: Field to Family, Petaluma Poultry, Pitman Family Farms and White Oak Pastures. For the highest Step level – Step 5+ – birds are bred, hatched and raised on the same farm. While there aren’t yet Step 5+ chickens, some of our suppliers are already starting to explore this option. So, now you know a bit more about the ratings on the chicken in our fresh meat case. We are pleased to offer the following Step-rated chicken by partnering with our awesome chicken vendors: Step 1 – Joyce Foods, and Townsends Step 2 – BC Natural, Bell & Evans, Eberly, Empire Kosher, FreeBird, Epicurean Farms, Pine Manor, and Wise Kosher Step 3 – BC Natural, Draper Valley, Field to Family, Petaluma Poultry, and Pitman Family Farms Step 4 – Campo Lindo Farms, Pitman Family Farms, Shenandoah Valley Farms, and Vital Farms Step 5 – Field to Family, Petaluma Poultry, Pitman Family Farms, and White Oak Pastures We’d love to hear what you think about this new program.

Blog Updated on 2/19/2015.

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198 comments

Comments

Courtney Whitman says …

Would you please share what the chickens diet consists of when they are not grazing? Are they ever fed corn or soy?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@COURTNEY - I would encourage you to reach out to the butcher at your local store so they can answer your question based on their local vendors. Since our products/vendors vary between regions and stores, I cannot say for all of the chicken we carry. You can find your store contact info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list.

Jessica says …

This is an amazing program! So helpful for consumers who care about humaine conditions for animals and want to incourage higher standars for raising food.Thank you!

kirsten says …

I love it. keep selling me happy meat ill keep buying it! :)

Darlene says …

These steps are very important to me and my family. I will be very excited to see Whole Foods and other suppliers get to Step #5. Thank you for caring.

Margaux says …

I looked this rating system up after seeing the label on a roasted chicken @ WF. Thanks for the information. I'm curious to know what the percentage of food sold @ Whole Foods in GMO ~ I recently read that it is about 60% ~ is this true and if so are products labeled accordingly? Please don't delete this question. Thanks.

maria says …

I will like to know if the chickens are given soy and/or corn in any of the levels? Also are the grass fed products (poultry, beef, pork) given any soy or corn?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARGAUX - Unfortunately, since our products vary between store locations, we do not have this number available for you. Since GMOs are so prevalent in the food supply, we work extremely hard to ensure that our shoppers have alternatives which include: lots of organic choices, sourcing our 365 Everyday Value products to avoid GMOs in addition to carrying thousands of Non-GMO Project verified products.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARIA - If an item is labeled as grass-fed, according to USDA guidelines, "grass and forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet shall be derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources may also be included as acceptable feed sources." Due to the prevalence of the GMOs in the commodity grain market, and the limited availability of verified non-GMO feed, we cannot require the use of only non- GMO feed for animal products (including meat, dairy and farmed fish) sold in our stores. We encourage shoppers who are looking to avoid products from animals fed GMOs to choose organic meat and dairy products (since organic standards prohibit the intentional use of GMOs).

Michael Kelly says …

I am very happy that you pursue the 5-step system for your animal products. I have always known of the poor treatment that factory farm animals undergo, and for a while was vegetarian. However, being in the navy, finances and having a carnivorous wife made that life choice disappear. This week something happened that may change the way we eat. We watched the documentary Vegucated (www.getvegucated.com) about three carnivors that take a six week vegan challenge. This opened not only my wife's eyes, but also an honest discussion about how we eat. A serving size of meat (or protein) is between 3 to 4 oz and no more than 2 servings a day. We were having much more than that and less veggies, fruits and whole grains. Based on the USDA's choosemyplate.gov 2200 calorie food plan I need three cups, two cups and 7oz correspondingly. My comment is that we will be purchasing more of our animal proteins from you because of the 5 step system, but what I would like to see is more transparency in the standards required for each step. Is it possible to list these standards? Or is this a trade secret? Thanks so much, @sustainabilitst

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MICHAEL - You bet! You can see the standards for each step at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/quality-standards/animal-welfare-standards. Hope this helps!

Rod Rucks says …

My sister and I are in the process of buying a small farm and it will definitely be organic. Am currently reading Joel Salatin's books (third generation alternative farmer). Don't know if you've read his books or are familiar with his raising process. Don't know how this would qualify under your 5 Step program?

Jessica Fletcher says …

I think that this is wonderful and very enlightening. I do all of my grocery shopping there and was just looking into a farm in New Jersey that delivers to a location for pickups. They are step 5 and I just noticed on my package that the chicken that I have been buying was only a step 2. I thought that I was doing a good thing.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ROD - I was able to speak with our QS team and while they are aware of Joel's books/work, they base the 5-Step rating on specific criteria from the GAP. You can find the exact breakdown for each step at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/quality-standards/animal-welfare-standards. Hope this helps!

Natalie says …

We watched the documentary "Food Inc" last night. We will be getting our chickens from Whole Foods from now on. We believe everyone should watch the movie to understand where your food comes from. Way to go Whole Foods for making a difference!

Steve Sharp says …

Hello -- Is there anywhere in NYC where I can buy Level Three and above chicken? I frequent several of your stores in Manhattan, and never is there anything above Level Two. Please advise. Thank you, Steve

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@STEVE - Since our vendors vary between regions and stores, have you been able to ask your local store about this?

sue says …

Where does amylu sausages get their chickens. What is their rating on the 5 step program?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SUE - I would encourage you to reach out to your local store for this info. Our vendors/products vary between locations so they would be the best to find this info out for you!

Jennifer Esposito says …

I have purchased several of your organic, free range, no antibiotics or hormone, vegetarian diet whole chickens & they have been delicious. I was wondering if vegetarian diet also meant corn free? What does the diet consist of specifically? Thanks.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JENNIFER - Being fed a vegetarian diet means that the animals are not fed any animal byproducts but does not imply that the feed does not contain corn. Each vendor will have specific feed for their livestock. Check with your local store to see what their vendors feed consists of.

Tera says …

This is amazing and I'm very happy that there are chickens out there that can have this kind of life. Hopefully it catches on and quickly.

Cindy says …

Thank you for posting the 5 steps. Lately I've been hearing so much about arsenic in our poultry, is this a concern we should have with Whole Foods Chickens and Turkeys?

Carole Mistarka says …

Hi, I think the program is really great. I like knowing about the welfare of the animals through the whole process of their lives. I don't want to consume animals that are distressed and mistreated and this helps to prevent that. I also like the way the step five producers are environmentally conscious on all levels. I was especially impressed with White Oak Pastures and the videos from Pitman's Farms were helpful. Thanks so much and keep up the great work.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CINDY - Johns Hopkins researchers concluded that residual arsenic in chicken samples from 2010 and 2011 resulted from the use of roxarsone, a synthetic drug used to promote growth. The manufacturer suspended sales of roxarsone in the U.S. in 2011. As such, chicken sold at Whole Foods Market does not come from animals raised with roxarsone. Our comprehensive meat standards are posted online at www.wholefoodsmarket.com/meat.

Annie altman says …

I love the Steps. I hope Wholefoods will always be trusted. The Step 5 chicken from white oak, has The best bones for bone broth. And the chicken and its fat, is delicious too!

Renee says …

We just had a step 5 chicken, and wow, it's the best tasting/texture chicken I've eaten in years. Really great flavor

Lee Lindig says …

Which stores sell Joyce Food Poulet Rouge chickens. I am in Las Vegas and would like to purchase their product for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LEE - Our products vary between stores so check with the exact store you plan to shop with to see if they carry this vendor. Our holiday menus will not be available online and in our stores until next week or the week after. The store should have an idea if they will carry this vendor!

Gala says …

How they fed? any GMO soy, corn? It would be GREAT if you would arrange that steps by including their feedings. Thanks!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@GALA - If you're looking to avoid GMOs I would suggest looking for organic meats as they will not be fed any GMO grain or feed.

NYC Consumer says …

You do not carry chicken in a category higher than 3 in New York City. Category 5 beef is very rarely offered: I have seen it only twice in the past year, and I shop at WF you every day. Why is that? I would like to be able to feed my family GMO-free meat from free-range animals. Thank you!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@NYCCONSUMER - This really depends on the farms/vendors in your area and what their step rating is since we try to purchase locally. We are actively working with ranchers to help them raise their step rating. If you're mainly looking to avoid GMOs, I would suggest looking for organic meat options since our step rating does not take in to account GMOs.

El says …

4/18/14 Very disappointed you abandoned Step 4 at my Arden Way Sacramento store and replaced it with all Step 3 because demand was so high for 4 you decided to cram more birds into the same facilities and settle for 3. Gosh, WFM, if I wanted factory-farmed organics, I could find them for a lot less than you charge! And I will see if I can find something closer to Step 4 at my co-op downtown. Once again, very disappointed in WFM.

Jonathan says …

I was wondering if all the steps include non gmo feed cause that would be great

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JONATHAN - Our Animal Welfare Standards do not currently include the type of feed but they are guidelines for how the animal was raised and treated. The GAP is planning to include fee types in the future. In the meantime, keep your eye out for organic or non-GMO meats if you're trying to avoid GMOs.

Andy says …

I really enjoyed this video. I found it educational and really helped me understand the quality of meat

Matthew McCarthy says …

It is a real pleasure to see a chain of stores working earnestly to provide high quality products which are sustainable and beneficial to the environment. In an era when mass production is preferred over quality, health, and humanity it is nice to know some people are still working hard fore the benefit of others. Thank you!

Janice says …

HOW DO I ORDER STEP 5 CHICKEN, REFRIGERATED SHIPPED OVERNIGHT TO CHICAGO ?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JANICE - We currently do not ship perishable products. We have quite a few stores in Chicago, check with your local store to see if they offer Step 5 chicken options!

Marta Sanchez says …

Please include the kill practices of these farms. Only recently did I learn of the thousands of male chicks killed and other inhumane killing practices.

Donald Schnellmann says …

Ambitious project. I would be happy at step 3 or 4 from a humane aspect but of course price is also a consideration and hope the market would bear the difference in price to achieve a balance.

scott pena says …

great rating system for welfare of the animals, but it can still apparently live out its enriched life on genetically modified food...

Lyn Croasmun says …

Your new step level ratings are confusing - way too much! The descriptions are vague and misleading. Today a meat person informed me that pigs are given bowling balls and other "toys" - his word: toys. Does anything about that strike you as stupid? Either you have USDA Certified Organic (pasture fed, not toys) food, or you do not. You have made it way too difficult for the consumer AND the farmer.

George says …

Interesting concept to grade the welfare of chickens but unless you're able to control where the bugs come in from, there's no guarantee that the chickens are free from GMO's. If the bugs or pasture is located near a farm that uses GMO's, GMO-tainted seeds and bugs that feed on GMO crops get eaten by these chickens. How organic then are these chickens going to be?

Carrie says …

You guys do an excellent job of always offering pasture-raised eggs, but I never see Step 4 or Step 5 chicken breasts (or even whole chickens) for sale. Does the Noe Valley store ever carry these?

Fran says …

This is great -- except we, in Albuquerque, NM, get only Step 2 chickens. I'd like to see Step 4 or 5. Why do we not have them?? Thanks.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CARRIE & @FRAN - Since our vendors will differ between stores, check with your local meat team to see if they can help track down these options for you!

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