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5-Step Chicken: What’s in a Number?

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.

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198 comments

Comments

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.

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?

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!

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/

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/

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!

Luz says …

This is fantastic! Thanks WF for letting us know.

John Turner says …

Interesting article. How does this translate into the final bird, quality of meat and flavor?

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!

roy says …

Sure, nice chickens treated nicely only to be chopped off and fed. Very humane :-)

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?

paig292 says …

@Rhonda 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.

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.

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?

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.

Bepkom says …

@Dannielle: I'm going to look into your inquiries and will post the answer soon. Thanks!

Anne Nonis says …

The treatment of animals is so important. I will only buy chicken, pork and beef under the step 5 program.

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

paig292 says …

@Aleks Sorry for leaving that off this blog post! In addition to Step ratings, all meat sold at our stores must meet strict quality standards, which require that animals be raised on a vegetarian diet without being administered antibiotics or added growth hormones. (Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising pork, poultry, goat, veal and bison.)

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!

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.

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.

Laura says …

This is wonderful. Thank you so much for easily providing this information that was difficult, if not impossible, to find before.

Patti says …

Although I do appreciate Whole Foods' efforts to use chickens that are raised as humanely as possible, chickens (and all animals) that are slaughtered for human consumption or any other purpose do NOT have a normal life cycle. A normal life cycle would be to allow them to live their entire lives at the Step 5+ level until their NATURAL deaths.

Tania says …

It is comforting to hear that Whole Foods provides all the information necessary to aid the consumer to make a choice in the product and also provides the highest quality stock of any other grocery store in our area. All of the information is provided and it is up to the consumer to make a decision. Thank you again for your excellent quality and service.

Marsha says …

I don't eat meat, but I want to thank you, Whole Foods, for thinking about how chickens are raised and slaughtered. A humane system is so needed. Hopefully your customers will support Step 5! I'm crossing my fingers that people DO care!

Jessie says …

i was very glad to see your various steps. they coincided with the mixed flock i raised myself when i had a small hobby farm. it was always nice to see them making their way around and in the garage to say goodbye to me in the morning, as i was leaving for work.

Jessica says …

I am so thankful for this. Even though they will be eaten :( they still deserve to have a healthy life!

Holly Gonzalez says …

This is a great system! I can't wait to share this with my clients and fuel my mission to educate people in consuming more consciously and sustainably. Thanks WF! ~Holly Gonzalez

Gabriela says …

Awesome! Let chickens be chickens! Can we have the same system for eggs? And for the other animals, sometime soon?

Robin Horrigan says …

This was very enlightening! Thanks.

linda says …

i and my family have recently gone vegetarian due to much exposure in the media about the cruelty towards animals. poultry has been the hardest to give up but now i don't feel i have to. i will purchase 'step-5' chickens and 5+ if you ever get any in your stores. thank you for all the products in your store that are 'humane'... what a lifesaver to those of us who want to make that switch!

Tullio Milani says …

My family and I actually have pet Chickens. We do NOT eat them, just their eggs. Ever since we took on these beautiful animals, we started becoming less willing to purchase chicken meat that has been harvested from poorly treated birds. However, it is very difficult to trust typical grocery stores, because their idea of happy chickens is very different than mine. Whole Foods however is not a typical grocery store. Having these 5-steps so the customer knows how these animals were treated before they graciously gave us their meat is what makes Whole Foods, well Whole Foods. Thank you very much for this information and for taking part in helping livestock live a better life.

Sheila says …

This is impressive. What about the eggs in WF. Will they be marked with a similar rating?

Shelly Norton says …

Although I applaud your quest for 'humane meat'. I do not believe killing an animal for the sake of 'meat' can ever be humane. All sentient beings deserve the right to live out the fulfillment of their lives. No one has the right to decide when another animal should die. Eating flesh is not healthy nor necessary for human survival. If you truly love animals and the environment, adopt a plant based diet.

Robin says …

I'm so glad to hear about the step program, but I've had the unfortunate experience of raising broiler chickens and I've seen firsthand how crippled they beccome when mature. Is there any possibility of heritage breeds being sold at whole foods in the near or distant future?

Bepkom says …

@Robin: That’s an interesting question. Often certain breeds are more susceptible to foot and leg problems but the Global Animal Partnership standards require that the animals raised are suited to their environment and they also require farmers to take immediate action if they see a lame animal.

Paul says …

I have recently decided to partake of my own step #6 in being a true friend to our "feathered friends" and their furry farm-mates, and that is to not eat them. Nothing is more humane than that.

Bepkom says …

@Sheila: Global Animal Partnership is working on standards for other species and we look forward to rolling those out in our stores when they become available. To see what they are working on, check out their site here: http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/the-5-step-program/our-standards/

Cindy says …

I am actually vegan, but love this system for feeding my family. I see that the egg system is underworks, but I am wondering how we can find out about dairy and how humanly the dairy farms are treating their cattle. They can be horrific for the cows, so I was hoping I can figure out how to buy dairy for my family that can sit better with my soul. Any thoughts?

esther says …

This is good. I know now that i would like a chicken rated 5. But I would also like to know that this chicken has been fed organic feed (as a supplement to foraging or while indoors due to inclement weather). And that it never was fed antibiotics. Do any of your rated 5 producers fulfill this? (Field to Family, Petaluma Poultry, Pitman Family Farms and White Oak Pastures.) And one last question: when i go to Whole foods how do I request one of these chickens? At the counter there are two groups: organic and regular. thank you!

paig292 says …

@Esther In addition to Step ratings, all meat sold at our stores must meet strict quality standards, which require that animals be raised on a vegetarian diet without being administered antibiotics or added growth hormones. (Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising pork, poultry, goat, veal and bison.) When you go to your local store, you will see ALL of our chicken rated with a Step 1 to Step 5 and you can choose accordingly.

Margo Weisz says …

Thank you for investing in animal welfare systems! Many of us are truly grateful.

Martha Utchenik says …

Thanks so much for this easy to understand explanation of the rating system! I feel so much better knowing how to choose this type of food, and knowing you carry all step-levels!

KATHY COPA says …

FINALLY A SYSTEM THAT THE CONSUMER CAN UNDERSTAND. It was difficult to tell which chiken was raised humanely on the old system. Since we vote with our dollar about the way we want to consume meat, I will be purchasing the chickens with the "5" ratings.

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