Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Leading Animal Welfare Standards

By Theo Weening, February 2, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Theo Weening

I’m really excited to announce that we are providing shoppers with a new level of transparency about how farm animals are raised by now offering beef, pork and chicken certified under the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system. The rating system is the signature program of Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit organization that facilitates and encourages continuous improvement in animal agriculture. Independent, third-party certifiers audit farms and rate animal welfare practices and conditions using a tiered system. We are proud to adopt this new rating system that helps shoppers make even more informed buying decisions.

More than 1,200 farms and ranches that supply our stores have received Step certification through independent, third-party certifiers. Color-coded signs and stickers throughout our meat departments identify these Step ratings. In addition to Step ratings, all meat sold at our stores must meet our strict quality standards, which require that animals be raised on a vegetarian diet without being administered antibiotics or added growth hormones*. It's really important to note that getting to Step 1 is a huge accomplishment in the industry! Step 1 requires more from our farmers and ranchers than we have ever asked before.

The Global Animal Partnership has developed Step ratings for pigs, chickens and cattle. Ratings for other species (turkeys, lamb, and others) are in development, so stay tuned. Look for this rating system the next time you stop by our meat department for beef, pork or chicken. 

For detailed information on each Step, and species-specific welfare information, visit the Global Animal Partnership website.

What do you think? Are you going to give Step-rated meat a try the next time you visit your local store? At Whole Foods Market, the more you know about our meat, the better.

Blog Updated on 2/20/2015.




Julia DV says ...
Great start, WFM! When do you plan to implement the same for dairy and eggs?
02/05/2011 1:33:56 PM CST
paig292 says ...
@Janet 1) They are announced audits. It’s really difficult to fake practices on a farm or ranch that produces animals. The auditors are trained by the Global Animal Partnership to observe the animals themselves and assess their welfare based on those observations. The animals’ condition, living environment and behavior patterns combine to tell the story of their welfare. and 2) All slaughter plants used for meat that is destined for Whole Foods Market are required to pass annual 3rd party audits for both animal welfare and food safety. These audits are based on Temple Grandin’s criteria, which you can find on her website http://www.grandin.com/ Thanks for your interest!
02/04/2011 4:21:31 PM CST
Janet says ...
This is a huge step forward. Thank you! Two questions: (1) Are the producers given advance notice of the third-party inspections? Think the visits need to be random and surprise to be credible. (2) Are there required methods of humane slaughter?
02/04/2011 12:19:57 PM CST
Sumi von Dassow says ...
Very cool! I'll look for your step 5 meats next time I'm in! I've been buying pastured meats from local producers and your rating system might lure me back in to the Whole Foods meat department.
02/18/2011 11:05:27 PM CST
Teri says ...
Thanks for this great start! I think anyone who is knowledgable or aware about the state of our farming industry is thankful for this next step in making the process transparent to consumers! I have no doubt that things will get better, thanks to steps like these. And yes, I agree that getting all aspects of the industry to step 1 is important. But lets also keep encouraging those who are rated as 4's, 5's, 5+'s to go for it all -- the non GMO feed, the access to grass pastures, organic practices, and gentle and fair slaughtering processes. Seriously, nothing makes me more happy than knowing the meat I eat is from a place where animals are respected their entire lives. The last scenes from Food, Inc come to mind with that lovely and educated farmer and his workers skillfully slaughtering and preparing chickens for market in open air....
02/04/2011 9:04:26 AM CST
Sandra Faut says ...
Bravo for your continuing efforts to look after the welfare of the animals who feed us. It's too bad they have to be slaughtered but if that must be, they should at least get good treatment before their life is ended.
02/06/2011 2:53:49 PM CST
Silvia says ...
Coming from Germany, I was used to know where the town's butcher would get the meat from. I almost stopped buying meat in the United States, since I couldn't stand the idea of not knowing how the animals where treated as part of my diet. Whole Food is leading the way in the RIGHT direction: TRANSPARENCY for the customer. It is is a mind-bugling, outrageous mystery to me that stores worldwide get away with keeping the origin/source of the food/product a SECRET. I had spend hours on the internet trying to figure out where the organic chicken or milk from Trader Joe's, Cosco, or Whole Food comes from. Bravo Whole Food, keep on showing the way. You got my support.
02/15/2011 2:43:34 PM CST
Alli says ...
When Whole Foods inspects farms, do they do a thorough job? I am hesitant to buy any chicken from Whole Foods because, even though it has a level 2 rating, I noticed it comes from Amish farms. Growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, many Puppy Mills are run by Amish farmers, including those in the Midwest where I live now. While their chickens may be free-range and happy, I do not want to buy it from the same farm that has hundreds of sick, over-bred dogs piled in wire cages. I applaud Whole Foods, who confronted an Amish farm from my hometown in PA that supplied milk to Horizon Organics but was also running a puppy mill on the farm. How do I know that the Amish farms supplying chicken to Whole Foods aren't running large puppy mill operations as well? Please let me know so that I can make an informed decision. In the meantime, I appreciate this step that Whole Foods is taking. Just wish you could find more farms that raised animals in a manner that is above the Step 2 rating that I see in my local store.
02/13/2011 11:27:01 PM CST
Gloria Levitt says ...
These guidelines are great. I would really like to know just what you include in "vegetarian feed" for these animals and poultry.
02/03/2011 3:15:33 PM CST
Emily says ...
Yet another reason why I only feel comfortable buying my meat and fish at whole foods. Keep up the great work and keep raising the bar!
02/04/2011 7:09:08 AM CST
Molly Sass says ...
Thank you, thank you, thank you for implementing this system!!! I buy/eat meat only if I know where it comes from, and this makes shopping so much easier! I am hoping all grocery stores go to this rating system someday. This is a wonderful step in the right direction for animal welfare!
02/13/2011 11:00:16 PM CST
Irene Cross says ...
My family is grateful that this issue is on your radar and that a plan is in place to make the changes that are necessary. Thank you!
02/03/2011 8:02:04 PM CST
Sherri Dyck says ...
This is great information...it's actually too bad that we need this system at all as humane treatment for livestock should be standard treatment for ALL animals no matter who raises them or buys them.
02/04/2011 7:36:05 AM CST
Lynn says ...
Thank you for making consumers feel that you have the best and safest food/meat supplies offered. The only beef we eat is that which was bought at Whole Foods. Your meat department, (and all your staff, actually), are helpful, patient, and informed. Keep up the great work!
02/04/2011 11:29:53 AM CST
Christine says ...
I am absolutely going to give Step-rated meat a try, and I wholeheartedly applaud Whole Foods for doing this. As someone who very much cares where her meat comes from, and wants humane treatment for all animals, I am very excited to see this development happen. Thank you, Whole Foods!
02/04/2011 11:46:15 AM CST
Elena A says ...
Thankyou for your commitment to quality. I am grateful to Whole Foods, farmers, and the organic community for creating and requiring standards that will serve as an example obtainable for all. Hopefully such a commitment will become standard on all farms.
02/07/2011 10:50:40 PM CST
Leslie Pearson says ...
I applaud your Global Animal Partnership Program. I try very hard to eat only cage free chickens and grass fed beef but I am very limited here in Destin, FL. You would think that we would have better choices in this area but the closest thing we have to a whole foods market is Publix with very limited items to choose from. I pray that someday there will be a Whole Foods Market in my area. After reading an article that discussed how your CEO, John Mackey, reduced his salary to $1 and donated the proceeds from future stock options to an animal charity, I was sincerely moved that someone cared, not only for his company and the people that work for him, but also the animal world. Mr. Mackey has truly restored my faith in humanity.
02/11/2011 7:26:16 AM CST
John says ...
In general, i feel you folks drop the ball by requiring that your meat come from animals fed vegetarian diets, and not organic diets. I don't want to eat anything that had atrazine applied to it, or was genetically modified to withstand round-up or any other chemical Monsanto wants their contracted farmers to use on crops. You say your interest is in making sure that the animal welfare be met, but you obviously don't mind them bio-accumulating these horrible chemicals. Very contradictory. You guys could be so much more if you took that last step and ensured that the animals were fed organic grains. Its healthier for them and us. Except it isn't. Anyone familiar with bovine digestion and metabolism will tell you that feeding grain to cattle will result in the equivalent of constant acid indigestion. They are not designed (read:evolved)to eat high protein content like that, just plain old grass. Their microbial communities with their GIT are meant to convert complex sugars into proteins, lipids vitamins etc. By buying met from cattle that ate corn their entire life, you are supporting agriculture production that adversely affects the animals welfare until the day it dies and no longer feels pain...good for you! Stop being a hypocrite and ensure that all cattle are grass fed only, from day one to the end. Otherwise, your just a bunch of liars to those of use who know.
02/11/2011 3:26:56 PM CST
Kristin Poppe says ...
I think the 5 step program is a wonderful initiative to keeping people informed about how animals are cared for before they end up on our plates. All people should take an interest in finding out where their food comes from- for their own health! If more people choose to be informed there will be more change in the meat industry. Thank you, Whole Foods, for putting quality standards above negligent profiteering.
02/12/2011 10:05:25 AM CST
Winnie says ...
Also, like other people, I would like to know when would something like this will be implemented to organic milk (brand 365) and organic eggs...I hope you implement it as soon as possible. Please let us know.
02/12/2011 9:35:54 AM CST
Lyn Theis says ...
I have just read the article on Animal Welfare Standards and although I am a Vegetarian and have been for the past thirty years I am always concerned about the way farm animals have been raised and the horror stories that I have read about the misconduct of the farm workers toward these animals. This is a huge success, animals are now finally being treated and raised humanely. No antibiotics or other poisons in their systems or for the people that consume them. Well Done and thank you.
02/12/2011 8:04:12 AM CST
Winnie says ...
I so happy to see you are making these changes. I became vegetarian recently, and I am not planning to eat meat again but I feel proud that the place I shop is considerate and really believes in animal care. We all need to know we are living beings and should respect each other and provide basic necessities to live a life full of respect and integrity with no pain and anxiety... THANKS! AND KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! ONE THOUGHT CHANGES THE WORLD..LET US ALL HAVE A THOUGHT FULL OF LOVE, PEACE AND RESPECT FOR ALL LIVING BEINGS!!!
02/12/2011 9:18:31 AM CST
Bob B says ...
I just read the about the animal standards. I think it's great and hopefully this idea of treating animals with respect and improving their quailty of life takes hold and becomes not just an outlier but a standard. We depend on animals for our survival and as such they should be treated with respcet.
02/14/2011 3:22:39 PM CST
James Puckett says ...
This is a small step in the right direction. And I might actually start buying meat from Whole Foods again if you eliminate all suppliers who don’t meet every step from your foods. Until then I’ll just keep having Fresh Direct deliver local meats—and all my other groceries.
02/14/2011 6:24:40 PM CST
Lisa says ...
Killing an animal to eat its flesh has nothing to do with animal welfare.
02/15/2011 11:56:59 PM CST