If you’ve been to our meat counter in the last couple of weeks, you probably have noticed a few changes. With the launch of the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards – the signature program of Global Animal Partnership – we’ve got new signage, brochures and labels for our Step-rated beef, chicken and pork! So what does it mean? Basically, the higher the Step number, the more interesting their environment, the more time the animals spend outside, and the more natural their life. Last week we talked about Steps 1 to 5 for our chicken. This week I want to tell you about our Step-rated pork – approximately 450 pig farms are able to supply Steps 1 through 4!
So let’s dive a bit deeper and see how the multi-tiered program impacts pigs and the farmers who raise them. At the first level, the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards program prohibits the use of crates or stalls, typically used on many pig farms. Instead, pigs at Step 1 are group-raised in barns or hoop houses. Another departure from customary practice is the flooring. Rather than spending their lives on barren, slatted flooring, Step 1 pigs are raised on good quality bedding, which helps keep them warm and comfortable. In addition, the common practices of routine tail docking and tooth clipping are not allowed. For Step 1, our pork suppliers must meet more than 110 different requirements — quite an achievement!
Step 2 requires a more enriched environment for the animals. For example, pigs have a strong drive to root and forage. In order to provide these opportunities in an indoor environment, Step-rated farmers have gotten very creative. Some provide straw bales — it’s quite a sight to see the pigs actively digging up the straw, pushing it around the pens and eating it! Other producers have provided novel objects in pens to keep pigs busy – some of our suppliers have hung chains from ceilings so the pigs can knock them around and play with them.
At Step 3, pigs must have continuous access to the outdoors during the day. Pigs can spend their time inside or roam around outside — it’s their choice. And since the Steps build on each other, Step 3 farmers also provide enrichments indoors so that the pigs can continue to root after dark or during bad weather.
At Step 4, pigs live continuously on pasture or outdoor foraging areas. Sounds easy, right? Well, going a step farther and not only giving pigs outdoor access but raising them outside takes a different kind of farming.
The 5-Step program requires that the pigs always have access to vegetative material so they can forage, and the pastures must have at least 25% vegetative cover – which is no easy feat with pigs rooting the land daily – so farmers need to be great land stewards as well as great animal managers! Pigs are prone to heat stress and sunburn, so wallows are required — these big muddy puddles are the best way to keep pigs cool on hot, sunny days. Pigs also have free access to housing or huts, which can be especially important during the winter months.
Steps 5 and 5+ are much more challenging for farmers, particularly here in North America where pigs are nearly always castrated when they are young to avoid what’s been called “boar taint” – a flavor that our palates aren’t used to. Since all physical alterations, including castration, are prohibited at Steps 5 and 5+, this is a significant challenge, but one that we know some of our producers are already facing head-on.
Step 5 also requires piglets to be raised with their littermates for their whole lives. And at Step 5+, transport is prohibited, so the pigs must be born and spend their entire lives on one farm. We’ll continue to support our producers as they explore ways to reach these levels. We are pleased to partner with dedicated family-owned farms and producers to bring you great-tasting meat. And don’t forget we also require no antibiotics - ever, no added growth hormones*, and no animal by-products in the feed.
*Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising pork.
Here are our some of our pork producers with their associated Step ratings: Step 1 – American Homestead, Coleman Pork, Les Viandes du Breton, Heritage Acres and Niman Ranch Step 2 – American Homestead, Fox Hill Farms and Sweet Stem Farm (formerly Meadow Run Farm) Step 3 – Becker Lane and Dogwood Nursery Step 4 – Lucki 7 Livestock Company, NC Hog Cooperative, Simply Grazin’ and Thompson Farms
Note: Many of these are small producers who supply only the stores that are local to their farms.
Have you tried Step-rated pork yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts! The more you know about our meat, the better.
Editor’s Note: This blog was modified on 9/22/15 to update how we refer to our standards.