Our Animal Welfare Standards: Separating Fact from Fiction

Editor's note: The President and CEO of The Humane Society of the Unites States, Wayne Pacelle, wrote on his own blog about this issue. Read his thoughts about Whole Foods Market’s anti-factory farming leadership.

Recently, there has been noise generated by PETA that questions the animal welfare standards we use to certify our partner farmers. I want to help set the record straight and reaffirm Whole Foods Market’s unwavering commitment to sourcing from responsible animal welfare practices and standards.

We all need to be clear about PETA’s mission. PETA is dedicated to ending animal agriculture and animal meat consumption. Period. The allegations they hurl at Whole Foods Market, and the many other targets on their hit list, are generated with that specific agenda in mind.

We firmly believe PETA’s lawsuit filed in California is without merit and is a waste of both the court’s time and taxpayer money. Like the silly “monkey selfie” lawsuit PETA filed against a photographer the same week they sued our business, PETA’s lawsuit against us is clearly designed to generate publicity while smearing our reputation. Oddly, their suit against us was filed in California, more than 2,800 miles and three time zones away from where our customers can buy the local pork products sourced from Sweet Stem Farm in 22 stores in three states.

Here’s what I want to make sure you know:

  • We have spent years working with Global Animal Partnership developing and implementing very rigorous standards for animal welfare and husbandry that extends to every one of our beef, chicken, pork and turkey suppliers; the most rigorous–by far–of any grocer. That’s a point of pride for us.
  • Representatives from PETA participated in the discussions that led to the animal welfare standards we use today.
  • Our meat teams help us ensure products are sourced from suppliers that are dedicated to responsible farming practices. This includes our teams vetting every meat supplier through a stringent approval process to ensure they meet or exceed Whole Foods Market’s quality standards.
  • All beef, chicken, pork and turkey in our fresh meat cases must come from producers who have achieved certification to the Global Animal Partnership’s (GAP) 5-Step® Animal Welfare Rating designed to promote farm animal welfare. GAP – a nonprofit collaboration between farmers, ranchers, animal welfare advocacy organizations, scientists and retailers like us – is committed to continual improvement of farm animal welfare.  
  • Independent third party auditors ensure GAP-certified producers are meeting Step standards, thereby providing transparency to specific production practices.
  • All of our meat is no-antibiotics, no added hormones and no animal by-products in feed – ever.
  • As a condition of doing business with Whole Foods Market, partner farmers must affirm their commitment to our standards throughout their supply chain. And if we are informed of a potential issue on a supplier farm, we rapidly investigate to determine the facts and take appropriate action.

Since we first opened our doors more than 35 years ago, co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey, myself and thousands of passionate, dedicated team members have worked tirelessly to change the food industry for the better. Over the years we have successfully pushed that bar higher and challenged and encouraged players in the food processing and production industries to raise their animal welfare standards.

We are far from finished, but our leadership role begs the question: Why does PETA choose to focus its venom on those who are tangibly and dramatically improving farm animal welfare by providing accountability through collaboration, transparency of production and traceability to source? These are the foundations for the development of a truly responsible pasture-based form of animal agriculture.

From 1981, when we stopped selling meat with added hormones, to the introduction of our ground-breaking Global Animal Partnership 5 Step® Animal Welfare Rating program in 2011, we have gone well above and beyond anyone else in the grocery industry, and that fact is beyond dispute.

We remain committed to providing the best quality and ethically sourced meat, fish, and poultry products, and are not distracted by the cynical, publicity-driven efforts of our critics. Whole Foods Market’s No. 1 priority is to ensure that our customers have the information they need to make the best, most informed choices for them and their families, and that every product on our shelves meets the rigorous quality standards that set us so far apart from our competition.

We thank you for your ongoing loyalty to Whole Foods Market!