Whole Story

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5-Step Chicken: What’s in a Number?

By Anne Malleau, February 15, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Anne Malleau

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.

Category: Meat




Liz Harkness says ...
This is awesome! I would also like to see ratings for eggs too, and to know at which step chick culling (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_culling) is prohibited. Right now I get them at the farmer's market or Vital Farms.
02/23/2011 9:10:19 AM CST
Lo says ...
I haven't found any veterinarians listed among the Global Animal Partnership board-- I believe they play a vital role in ensuring both animal and human health and the humane treatment of food animals along the pathway from farm to fork. What role, I any, has the veterinary establishment played in outlining the 5 step system?
02/22/2011 9:09:54 PM CST
Lisa Sims says ...
This was GREAT information!! At least now you have an option to pick what kind of chicken you would like to eat. Very informative...thank you!
02/22/2011 4:29:24 PM CST
paig292 says ...
@Pamela Yes, both males and female chickens are raised for meat. Chickens are put in crates just prior to transport, and transport times have been developed to take the stress levels off the animals into consideration. For more details, please visit http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/
02/16/2011 8:46:22 PM CST
paig292 says ...
@Betsy To achieve Step 3, there must be an outdoor area equivalent to at least 25% of the total occupied indoor floor area. For more specifics, visit http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/
02/17/2011 11:07:00 AM CST
Anna says ...
Sounds great. Just to clarify, are the birds fed GMO grains and or soy? Are they fed organic grains, or only natural grasses, bugs and forage? Please let me know. Thanks!
02/19/2011 12:11:11 PM CST
Luz says ...
This is fantastic! Thanks WF for letting us know.
02/21/2011 3:01:07 PM CST
John Turner says ...
Interesting article. How does this translate into the final bird, quality of meat and flavor?
02/21/2011 3:17:52 PM CST
Fc says ...
I am a vegetarian, but I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see you've implemented this rating system. Now there are no excuses! People can make INFORMED decisions and work towards creating better lives for the animals who are being sacrificed for human consumption. Thank you Whole Foods! I will be sure to spread the word!
02/20/2011 4:29:01 PM CST
roy says ...
Sure, nice chickens treated nicely only to be chopped off and fed. Very humane :-)
02/18/2011 12:25:25 PM CST
Rhonda says ...
This is great news! Step 5 is my interest-but I have yet to see it in the stores. Highest I have seen so far is Step 3 and that was just in the last week. Will step 5 be special order or will they be stocked regularly in the stores?
02/17/2011 10:09:51 PM CST
Pamela Donovan says ...
I am so happy to hear about the 5 Step process and that the animals are being raised in a natural enviorment. I have a question regarding the way the animals are put to death before heading to market. Is this one of the higher steps that it will or is done humanely? Does Whole Foods know the process? Would like to know more about this. Thank you again for caring for all earthlings.
02/21/2011 6:25:12 PM CST
Kristi Marsh says ...
How can Whole Foods offer Step 5+ cattle if they can't be transported yet cant legally be slaughtered on the farm? Is there no such thing as 5+ beef?
02/21/2011 9:18:42 PM CST
Dannielle says ...
I would like to know what Whole Foods does to insure these animals are not exposed to diseases or conditions spread by migratory birds, and whether or not you have any mortality numbers (birds started in flock vs birds finished and sent for processing, including numbers of those lost to predation, health problems, hen aggression/pecking/cannibalism, etc). I am also interested to learn how the producers can verify the health and nutrition of individual bird in their care- how do they follow each animal and keep track of daily/weekly progress? Lastly, how do these rating systems affect price of the product on shelf? thank you.
03/28/2011 10:05:41 AM CDT
Anne Nonis says ...
The treatment of animals is so important. I will only buy chicken, pork and beef under the step 5 program.
02/18/2011 9:52:12 AM CST
paig292 says ...
@Heidi We have a 5-Step brochure available in our stores and you can print it out from our Animal Welfare page: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/meat/welfare.php
02/18/2011 9:09:17 AM CST
paig292 says ...
@Mindy Most of the chicken sold at Whole Foods Market stores is rated at Step 2, which means the birds have enrichments in their housing so they have interesting things to do and places to hide. There are also farms with Step ratings of 3, 4 and 5, which are available in some regions, some stores, depending on where the farms are and how many birds they have produced. As the program unfolds, we hope to see more variety in the Step ratings available in all our meat cases and Step ratings moving higher and higher.
02/16/2011 8:37:58 PM CST
Laura says ...
I am extremely glad that you are moving in the right direction in terms of buying and labelling products that have been raised or produced using sustainable and safe practices. It allows me to make an informed decision when I shop. There are no mysteries about where the animals came from or how they were treated. Keep it up!
02/18/2011 10:52:20 AM CST
siri says ...
This reminds my rural childhood memories of eating and playing with free range chicken. They taste great and gives a satisfaction that the chicken had a normal life cycle.
02/15/2011 3:03:51 PM CST
Martha Royer says ...
Thank you SO much for this! We really appreciate this info. I have looked at packaging & just wondered worrily how the animals fared. We used to raise livestock, and since really care about what they go through (having enjoyed watching their joy at living a 'normal' life!). This is invaluable.
02/16/2011 3:49:22 PM CST
aleks says ...
Only because growth hormones are not mentioned here, can I be assured that step 1 chickens are not raised with growth hormones as well as antibiotics? I hope that growth hormones are not allowed for any of the ratings, and I'm surprised they are not mentioned.
02/16/2011 7:35:48 PM CST
Katie says ...
I'm a vegetarian precisely because not enough programs like these exist in the united states. It's so exciting to hear that something like this is being implemented into a large grocery chain like Whole Foods. This is the type of awareness that America needs! Thank you!
03/07/2011 4:36:00 PM CST
Donna Shirley says ...
First, I want to say thank you for developing this very important program. I've been a Wholefoods customer for 2 years now and love everything about the store from customer service, to products and choices. The 5 Step program brings even more credibility to Wholefoods values. The values are not merely a perception, but reality and I get the sense continual thought goes into developing even more natural and human options for customers. I will never shop anywhere else. I’m lucky that I have a Wholefoods in my neighborhood. Again, thank you for your diligence and perseverance to do what is clearly the right thing to do.
02/20/2011 6:30:46 AM CST
Laura says ...
I have just started to eat meat again after not eating it for 20 years. I thought I would have to really work at finding a local farm that I could feel comfortable with. Then I saw this new rating system, along with a lot of great local farms, right at my local Whole Foods. Very easy. This is wonderful and very much appreciated.
02/20/2011 7:09:52 AM CST
Laura says ...
This is wonderful. Thank you so much for easily providing this information that was difficult, if not impossible, to find before.
02/20/2011 7:10:42 AM CST