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Animal Welfare: Taking the Road Less Traveled

Summertime usually means we’re planning road trips and heading out to unknown destinations for fun and exciting adventures. As you’re driving down the highway, have you noticed trucks carrying cattle or pigs? Ever wonder how long they’ve been on the open road? While the preferred method of transport may have changed over the years from railcars to trucks, since the 1870s most farm animals have been transported extremely long distances to reach processing plants.

In an effort to regulate transport duration, the Twenty-Eight Hour Law was initially passed by the federal government in 1873 and then amended in 1994. Basically, the law requires cattle, sheep, and pigs to be unloaded and rested if their journey is more than 28 consecutive hours (or up to 36 hours if an exception is requested). I’m sure you can appreciate that even with this law in place, that’s a long time to be on a truck!

In an effort to curb long transport times and address other farm animal welfare concerns, Whole Foods Market® requires all of our pig, chicken and beef cattle farms and ranches to be third-party inspected and certified to Global Animal Partnership’s (GAP) 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Program. The program includes an entire section dedicated to minimizing stress associated with transport.

The GAP standards for cattle and pigs are very detailed and cover everything from transport duration, vehicle condition and stocking density to documentation, record keeping and emergency plans. Some standards are the same for all steps in the program. For example, all ramps and floors must be designed to minimize slipping; the driver must be able to inspect all animals on the truck; and unhealthy, injured or non-ambulatory animals are prohibited from being loaded onto the truck.

Some steps have specific requirements. For example, at Step 4, cattle can’t be transported more than 16 hours and pigs longer than 8 hours, and GAP requires that these trips cannot be extended by unloading and resting animals mid-journey. At the highest Step level, our Step 5+ pigs spend their entire lives on the farm and never once get on a truck!

Although we do not have Step 5+ cattle at Whole Foods Market yet, we are encouraging our vendors to consider using either a mobile processing plant or building a plant on-site to meet this standard.


Maximum Transport Duration




25 hours

14 hours


16 hours

8 hours


There is no Step 3 for cattle.

8 hours


16 hours

8 hours


8 hours

8 hours


No transport allowed

No transport allowed

While it’s hard to imagine a day when all farm animals won’t need to be transported, GAP’s 5-Step Program has taken the road less traveled and sets strict criteria for cattle and pig producers to follow — keeping travel safe, comfortable and as quick as possible.

Tell us what you think of GAP’s 5-Step transport standards!

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Tara Ashpool says …

Thanks for the link Megan. I've found that sometimes I just need meat in a meal but I want to feel ok about it. I'm little bit lazy so I like the 5step grading because it's simple. The store put the number on the label. I'm going to try to buy level 5s ....easy

Katie says …

This is an excellent policy. My question is, what is your definition of "farm"? If the Step 5 animals spend their entire lives in a CAFO, avoiding truck transportation is small consolation for the animals (and a serious detriment to people and the environment). http://www.nocafos.org/

Megan says …

@Katie You can read more about the 5-Step Ratings right over <a href="http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/5step.php" rel="nofollow">here</a> (click on the PDF for even more details). I hope that helps answer your question.


I support this concern for Animal Welfare. Humans get the ability to recognize the pain and sorrow that could be in the lives of other human beings if they practice the art of showing compassion to animals. If I can recognize the pain of a dumb and mute creature, it will be a lot easier for me to recognize the pain of fellow human beings.

tracy says …

I would certainly support GAP's 5-Step certification if Whole Foods identified farms that supported this practice.

daisy says …

I am all for it. Honestly, that is one thing I had not thought about in regard to the cycle of the beef and pork industry. It makes me sad to think about it. Although I'm getting away from eating meat because of my concerns about my health AND the animals' welfare, when I do buy meat, I would prefer to know that it had suffered as little as possible. I appreciate your efforts. I'm happy that I have a Whole Foods I can shop at. Thanks for caring.

Jennifer Oberth says …

I've been vegan for years and I'm happy to not be a part of animal suffering (well, as much as is humanly possible in this country)but am so glad that people who do eat meat, do care about the animals they're eating. I like that Whole Foods puts their money where their mouth is and does business with farms that meet higher standards than normal and they blog about it, talk about it and have signs and literature in the store. (I'm looking forward to the day no animal is transported because no one is eating them!)