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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

Ami says …

This is great. This will certainly help my selection of chicken and eggs at the store. I think this system is fantastic!

n knapp jebens says …

Step 5 please!

Teddy says …

How about recognizing chicken alternatives that do not prioritize consumer "need" over chickens' ultimate welfare?

Heather says …

Maybe I am not looking closely enough, but I can't seem to locate the steps on all of the meat/chicken packages. Also I haven't seen anything above a 2. Am I looking in the wrong place or something?

Bruce McCarthy says …

This is wonderful information to have on the food we buy. I have come to trust Bell & Evans, for example, but found it hard to articulate what they do and don't do with their chickens. (Actually, I was kind of hoping to find they allowed them outdoors, as in step 3.) And, frankly, even at Whole Foods it's hard to know what you are buying exactly. This info really helps make it clear and makes it easier to make decisions when in the store. So thank you for posting it here and marking the chicken you sell in the stores. I will watch for it. I've tried to develop some of my own principles for healthy and responsible (as well as convenient and tasty) foods I eat on my blog. http://www.madeofgoodfood.com/principles/#responsible. Hopefully that's useful for folks.

Marilyn says …

Fantastic! Couldn't have come as a better time. This is the way life is supposed to be for all creatures. I recently decided to stop eating animals and by-products, especially chickens because of the horrendous conditions under which factory farms raise them.

Trino says …

Don't the chickens get eaten by predators? Maybe you should keep them in a building all the time, it would be safer in there

Christina says …

I heading to Whole foods today and I'm looking forward to the new labeling. I really want to know that my food had a good life and didn't endure any suffering. I don't mind paying higher prices to put food in my body that is good for me and the planet. I think this rating system will help me to know what I'm paying for.

Bepkom says …

@Lo: The health of the animals is very important to us! While the standards were being developed by Global Animal Partnership, a number of different experts were brought together, including representatives from the veterinary community, to provide invaluable guidance and advice during the process.

amy says …

What happens to the male chick and ducks and turkeys?

Laura Henderson says …

Thank you SO much for investing in this program. Personally I am a vegan, but I applaud any effort to raise awareness of animal welfare issues -- and to allow people to avoid unintentionally supporting animal cruelty when they shop. I hope eventually you will only carry Step 4 and 5. I also understand you will be carrying Humane Choice pet food so people can feed their pets food that is humane as well. Thank you!

Brian Quinn says …

I think this an awesome idea and thank you for doing it! I will definitely pay the extra money to buy the top rating!

Jan Warren says …

Can you please tell me if any of these 1-5 star chicken producers feed their chickens Roxarsone, Pfizer's chicken feed (which contains inorganic arsenic) which is a known carcinogen. In response to an FDA inquiry, Pfizer said that they will voluntarily recall this chicken feed in "some markets."

Bepkom says …

@Jan: No, our chickens are not fed Roxarsone. For more information on our strict Quality Standards, please click here: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/quality-standards.php

CW says …

This is such a great idea - we will definitely start buying all our meats at whole foods now. It makes being humane-conscious so simple!

Patti J says …

What step level of chicken are you going to use in your prepared meals such as the cooked chickens, etc. The employees at the prepared foods section knew nothing about where the meat in the dishes came from. There were roasted chickens that looked great. I asked, "Are these chickens step rated also?" The gentlemen said, "I'm not sure." Can we get more labeling in the prepared section please? I'm busy and would like to buy more ready made foods.

Denise Coradini says …

The program sounds great and is very informative. My only concern, as with all organic live stock, is that organic feed is not the same as an animals natural feed. The more corn, the more Omega 6 feed, the less healthy for us is their meat. I would like to see more about what animals are grazing naturally or what percentage of their diet is natural -- bugs, grass, etc. -- as opposed to corn or other man-made feed that might not make for the healthiest meat products. I would like to see more farmers/ranchers encouraged to offer naturally fed animals as they do in Brazil, New Zealand and other countries.

Yvonne says …

I have enjoyed using this rating system. I would like it if all the meat were labeled with this rating system at the whole foods I shop at. I'm not sure if some of the meat is not labeled because it has a rating less than step 1 or if the sticker was not put on. I am a bit confused by that. I also would like to see this rating system being applied to the eggs, dairy, and all the other animal products. This rating system really helps me make decisions about what I chose to buy and therefore I would like to see it used more. At the very least all the meat should be labeled, unless it not being labeled means that the meat has not reached the standards of step 1. Incidentally I also use the rating system for fish at the store, which again is instrumental in helping me make decisions about what I buy; however often when a fish is on sale, only the sale price is listed and not its rating. I hope that something can be done in the future to make the rating system more prevalent.

Shirley Ann says …

Hi, I got chicken today (Aug 31, 2011) at WF in Mill Valley. Label says the grower is Snelling Co. I don't see them listed above. What is their rating?

says …

@Shirley Ann The chicken from Snelling CA, sold at your Mill Valley Whole Foods Market has a Step 3 rating. To learn more about what the steps mean, regarding animal treatment and processing, please watch this video about our rating system. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv4bzoEG8Kc

Shirley Ann says …

Another question: what are the Whole Foods standards re: debeaking of chickens?

says …

@S Larhette Hmm, the inconsistent quality could be due to a whole host of reasons. I reached out to one of our Global Meat Buyers and this was her answer: "We do encourage our chicken suppliers to use the similar breeds and feed formulations to ensure that the quality is consistent but if you want more info please contact Bell & Evans directly at: http://www.bellandevans.com/content/customer-service or via telephone: 717-865-6626"

Linda says …

I was wondering if any of these standards address chlorine in the processing step of poultry, I know Bell & Evans do not use chlorine in processing or cleaning their poultry. Would anyone know if any of these other companies use chlorine in there chicken? Thanks

says …

@Linda Thanks for your thoughtful question. Some producers use a water bath with an extremely diluted chlorine content for chilling chicken post slaughter. Others use an air chiller. The producers using air chillers are very interested in calling it out and do so quite openly on their packaging and in our stores. You should see an "air cooled" promotion on the package itself. So, if you don't see the call out to air chilled in the store or on the package, then it's probably not. As for finding air cooled '"step rated" chicken near you, I encourage you to reach out to your community's Whole Foods Market. A Team Member from your store will be happy to speak with you about the available options. Follow the link below to identify your store and their contact information. http://wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/

Ed says …

How can I buy Pasture Raised Organic Chicken from you stores? Or do you guys even carry any at all? and if so, how can I tell? Free range has lost all its meaning now, and pasture raised is what people in fact are looking for when they choose "free range".

says …

@Ed Whole Foods Market is happy to sell from 1-5 step rated chickens across the company. To learn what step rated chickens are available at your community Whole Foods Market I encourage you to reach out to them directly. The link below will help identify the contact information for your store where a Team Member will be happy to discuss the step rated chickens available and what that means for the life of the chicken. www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores

Tony says …

The step rating is a step in the right direction and the quality of life is definitely an important factor.. The missing element here is feed.. I would like to know at which step, does the poultry stop receiving GMO feed.. Feed in my opinion plays a bigger role.. IF GMO feed is part of a chickens diet, then GMO is part of the human consuming that chicken. Chickens without pasture to graize on bugs and grasses would be of primary concern, since all of their food source is feed. I know Whole foods has taken a big step to make its 365 brand GMO free.. Well, it should step it up and deny GMO feed for any meat of poultry products. I would also like to see pasture raised birds that do not receive soy in their supplemental feed. This in my opinion would be 6+ rating.. A chicken that spends its day outside on pasture, has access to filtered or gravity fed spring water, and is given a soy free organic supplemental feed when necessary..

says …

@Tony The Step Rating is to inform you of the treatment of the animal during it's lifetime. At this time only the term organic means that the animal has received feed certifiably free of GMOs. This means you should look for step rated meat that is also listed as organic. Thanks for reaching out and for your support of our mission.

Mary says …

Bell and Evans does not pasture their chickens. They also feed a soy diet. Do you sell chickens that are not fed soy and are pasture raised? I have been ordering them from small farms..but I would much prefer the convenience of buying them at one of my Whole Foods Markets in New Orleans/Metairie - Louisiana.

says …

@Mary We certainly sell chickens that are pasture raised. To figure out which chickens were pasture raised, please check the appropriate number rating and if you have any questions, please ask your the butcher available. Step one should require no crates, crowding, or cages. You can review the standards at the link below. Thanks for reaching out! http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/5step.php

C. Lane says …

Thanks for this program. I'm interested in step-five chickens, but I read on the website of Petaluma Poultry (http://www.petalumapoultry.com/poultry), a five-step supplier, that the "spacious chicken houses" allocate only 1 square foot per bird. Does Whole Foods have any suppliers that do not confine chickens to tight spaces? Has Whole Foods considered using the Certified Humane labeling system? Thanks.

says …

@C.Lane Our 5-step chickens are raised in their natural environments with no cages and are offered natural sleeping options. Chickens prefer to be perched in bird houses as their optimal sleeping environments. It is likely that this one square foot of space is referring to their sleeping environments, since step 5 requires open, outdoor living space (no cages ever). Thanks for reaching out.

s larhette says …

wonderful approach to helping me, the consumer, to find the quality desired. I love to cook and look forward to a desired result , especially with chicken, when you want a certain delectable chicken taste that pleases a home cook. How do you manage consistent quality? Ihave found with one brand very inconsistent results, with one chicken being dry and a little mushy kind of tenderness.The Bell and Evens organic is inconsistent with texture and flavor

Nicole B. says …

While many companies are trying to hide where their food comes from or how it's made, Whole Foods is actually willfully giving this information to the consumer. I think this is admirable. However, I do have two points that I would like to make. 1 - I consider myself a vegetarian but will eat meat on occasion if the animal was both raised and slaughtered humanely. The animal welfare rating standards do a fantastic job of informing me of how the animal is raised but completely leaves out the slaughter process. I really wish this could be a focus as well 2 - I wish that more stores would provide chicken that rates higher on this scale. I've never seen chicken rated higher than a 2 in any of the Whole Foods in my area.

tommi vonderhaar says …

After reading several disturbing articles about the meaning behind different organic certifications for how poultry is raised, it is wonderful to find a store who cares about the ratings. I can feel certain that the poultry my family eats is from reputable farmers and are getting the best product I can find. Thank you so much!

Marcia says …

This is a great program! Love it!

GG says …

Outstanding! just what I was looking for after recently reading the book "Eating Animals" about the horrors of factory farming. Thank you very much for being an active part of the solution to reduce suffering in our food supply. I'm also concerned about reducing/eliminating the GMO content. How are the GMOs handled?

says …

@GG You can read all about Whole Foods Market's stance on GMOs at the following location. http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/2012/02/gmo-monsanto-buyout-rumors-untrue/

Mary says …

All the stores in Houston don't carry chicken beyond Step 1 - which is very disappointing for such a large city - Whole Foods needs to provide customers with more options and not just have this on your web site - thank you

Megan says …

@Jacquie I reached out to our Meat Team and here's what they had to say: <blockquote>All our beef, pork and chicken is step-rated in the meat case. 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: <a href="http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/the-5-step-program/our-standards/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/the-5-step-program/our-standards/</a></blockquote> I hope this helps answer your question!

Jacquie says …

I think that the rating system is a wonderful idea, but I was hoping that you could tell me why some of the meat is not rated?

Denise says …

In my quest to only purchase animals treated humanely, I notice that the information seems to stop abruptly when it comes to slaughter practices, ESPECIALLY for chickens. The disgusting stun baths and upside down shackling, etc. are beyond comprehension, yet I don't know how the WF step 5 chickens are slaughtered, nor can I find any information on that. Can you enlighten? I recently bought a whole chicken at WF that was from Lapp Family Farm in PA, and I can't find info on the web about their slaughter practices, either. HELP?

Choymae Huie says …

I've been having a lot of health issues lately and found out that 100% grass fed animals have oil soluble vitamins necessary for optimum health and in most of our commercial farm practices, those vitamins are all but lost in the final product. Trying to find animals with healthy fats can be daunting. Just last week, I discovered that free range does not mean a 100% pastured. Free range can mean that the animal is allowed to roam inside a cement area, but do not have the advantage of being allow to be in sunlight or to forage for their natural food such as worms, insects and plants. Pasture fed, does not mean 100% grass fed. A grass fed cow can still be place into feedlots and fed grains to fatten them up the last 3 months. Unfortunately, within those 3 months, most of the valuable omega 3s have converted to omega 6s. Only 100% grass fed means that the animal has been grass fed it's entire life. I'm grateful to have it classified so clearly. Thank you, it makes shopping at Whole Foods, so much easier.

Madeleine says …

I am here with Denise. Looking for the slaughter practices. I understand there is no nice way in killing / slaughtering an animal. You're taking its life, yet I do not want to buy chickens / turkeys that where slaughtered in the way Denise describes. Thanks.

cindy says …

This interests me. I'm glad to hear tht Whole Foods is implementing a more ethical way of producing meat. It is great that these animals are having a better quality of life as it is our duty to be good stewards of this planet. However, this is not the reason why I would want to purchase this kind of meat versus what is more comercially available and factory farmed. Animals that live in horrid conditions, eating garbage grain based diets, crammed in cages, drugged up on anibiotics are likely to be ill. I do not want to consume diseased animals full of hormones that are likely to be passed on to my children. I am not against eating meat. I do believe that producing ethical meat will benefit the animal but more importantly it will benefit our health....just saying. Also it would be nice if Whole Foods were inspected by an outside source rather than performing these alleged "annual self audits." This extra measure would make this company seem a lot more accountable and credible.

Kailyn says …

I've been a vegan for 9 months and have gone back to just eating chicken so far. Although, I'm choosing to only eat chicken if I know it was humainely raised and this is the perfect thing! Thank you so much for this information and please post when step 5+ chickens are available.

Lisa B says …

Whew! Thank you for offering humane choices!

Angela says …

I am THRILLED about this new system!! Thank you for creating it and a BIG thanks to the farms for participating!! How do I make the request for a step 5 at the counter? I didn't notice until I already got my chicken that it had a step 3 rating. While a 3 is great, if I had the option I would have purchased a 5 rating.All in all, it's a fantastic program!

Nicolette Flores says …

Thank you for caring in such an amazing way about the animals welfare! I will be buying my meats from Whole Foods from now on!

Rose says …

I always look for white oak pasture raised it so good for soup or literally any recipes that calls for chicken. The taste reminded me f what we called native chicken back in my country they're a bit hardy but really tasty!

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