Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Leading Animal Welfare Standards

By Theo Weening, February 2, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Theo Weening

I’m really excited to announce that we are providing shoppers with a new level of transparency about how farm animals are raised by now offering beef, pork and chicken certified under the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system. The rating system is the signature program of Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit organization that facilitates and encourages continuous improvement in animal agriculture. Independent, third-party certifiers audit farms and rate animal welfare practices and conditions using a tiered system. We are proud to adopt this new rating system that helps shoppers make even more informed buying decisions.

More than 1,200 farms and ranches that supply our stores have received Step certification through independent, third-party certifiers. Color-coded signs and stickers throughout our meat departments identify these Step ratings. In addition to Step ratings, all meat sold at our stores must meet our strict quality standards, which require that animals be raised on a vegetarian diet without being administered antibiotics or added growth hormones*. It's really important to note that getting to Step 1 is a huge accomplishment in the industry! Step 1 requires more from our farmers and ranchers than we have ever asked before.

The Global Animal Partnership has developed Step ratings for pigs, chickens and cattle. Ratings for other species (turkeys, lamb, and others) are in development, so stay tuned. Look for this rating system the next time you stop by our meat department for beef, pork or chicken. 

For detailed information on each Step, and species-specific welfare information, visit the Global Animal Partnership website.

What do you think? Are you going to give Step-rated meat a try the next time you visit your local store? At Whole Foods Market, the more you know about our meat, the better.

Blog Updated on 2/20/2015.




Mary says ...
Thank you! This is a great step forward. And I am grateful your knowledgeable staff behid the meat counter, especially since I have been purchasing only pastured meats/eggs. One question (which may be very obvious, but would like specific clarity), does step 5 (and 5+) also include pasture raised as one of the necessary qualifications? Thanks again!!
02/03/2011 2:56:34 PM CST
Pamela says ...
I am very excited about this and love having the assurance that what I feed my family comes from humane and properly fed sources. Bravo Whole Foods!!
02/03/2011 2:56:36 PM CST
Gloria Levitt says ...
These guidelines are great. I would really like to know just what you include in "vegetarian feed" for these animals and poultry.
02/03/2011 3:15:33 PM CST
R Prada says ...
I am only interested in eating grass fed meat. I do not want an animal fed cord, soy or any other feed that is not part of their normal diet. It goes without saying I want them organically pastured. If you give me this information, I will eat the food that conforms. Only non-GMO alfalfa, of course.
02/03/2011 3:37:19 PM CST
Scilla says ...
These are great standards, when will the color-coded labels take affect in the stores? I go to Whole Foods every week and as of now I only see the labels on a few meat products.
02/03/2011 3:47:33 PM CST
Denise says ...
I'm with Gloria...is this "vegetarian food" Non-GMO food ? This would be really great ! Thanks ! Love Whole Foods Stores !
02/03/2011 3:55:04 PM CST
Kitty H says ...
All this is great! But What steps are taken in the slaughter of these animals? Is it the same old thing or is it and I know this is silly, but is it as gentle as they are raised? Is care taken so their last moments are as good as can be?
02/03/2011 4:14:47 PM CST
Kathryn Grace says ...
I love this. Thank you so much for taking strong steps to assure safe meat is available to those of us who choose meat diets, as well as assuring the animals who sacrifice their lives for us have comfortable lives.
02/03/2011 4:20:29 PM CST
Irene Cross says ...
My family is grateful that this issue is on your radar and that a plan is in place to make the changes that are necessary. Thank you!
02/03/2011 8:02:04 PM CST
Carol goodman says ...
Your standards for animal welfare are the main reason I always shop at whole foods. I am so proud of you! Thank you!
02/03/2011 8:40:45 PM CST
Emily says ...
Yet another reason why I only feel comfortable buying my meat and fish at whole foods. Keep up the great work and keep raising the bar!
02/04/2011 7:09:08 AM CST
Sherri Dyck says ...
This is great information...it's actually too bad that we need this system at all as humane treatment for livestock should be standard treatment for ALL animals no matter who raises them or buys them.
02/04/2011 7:36:05 AM CST
Teri says ...
Thanks for this great start! I think anyone who is knowledgable or aware about the state of our farming industry is thankful for this next step in making the process transparent to consumers! I have no doubt that things will get better, thanks to steps like these. And yes, I agree that getting all aspects of the industry to step 1 is important. But lets also keep encouraging those who are rated as 4's, 5's, 5+'s to go for it all -- the non GMO feed, the access to grass pastures, organic practices, and gentle and fair slaughtering processes. Seriously, nothing makes me more happy than knowing the meat I eat is from a place where animals are respected their entire lives. The last scenes from Food, Inc come to mind with that lovely and educated farmer and his workers skillfully slaughtering and preparing chickens for market in open air....
02/04/2011 9:04:26 AM CST
Lynn says ...
Thank you for making consumers feel that you have the best and safest food/meat supplies offered. The only beef we eat is that which was bought at Whole Foods. Your meat department, (and all your staff, actually), are helpful, patient, and informed. Keep up the great work!
02/04/2011 11:29:53 AM CST
Christine says ...
I am absolutely going to give Step-rated meat a try, and I wholeheartedly applaud Whole Foods for doing this. As someone who very much cares where her meat comes from, and wants humane treatment for all animals, I am very excited to see this development happen. Thank you, Whole Foods!
02/04/2011 11:46:15 AM CST
Janet says ...
This is a huge step forward. Thank you! Two questions: (1) Are the producers given advance notice of the third-party inspections? Think the visits need to be random and surprise to be credible. (2) Are there required methods of humane slaughter?
02/04/2011 12:19:57 PM CST
paig292 says ...
@Janet 1) They are announced audits. It’s really difficult to fake practices on a farm or ranch that produces animals. The auditors are trained by the Global Animal Partnership to observe the animals themselves and assess their welfare based on those observations. The animals’ condition, living environment and behavior patterns combine to tell the story of their welfare. and 2) All slaughter plants used for meat that is destined for Whole Foods Market are required to pass annual 3rd party audits for both animal welfare and food safety. These audits are based on Temple Grandin’s criteria, which you can find on her website http://www.grandin.com/ Thanks for your interest!
02/04/2011 4:21:31 PM CST
Julia DV says ...
Great start, WFM! When do you plan to implement the same for dairy and eggs?
02/05/2011 1:33:56 PM CST
Sandra Faut says ...
Bravo for your continuing efforts to look after the welfare of the animals who feed us. It's too bad they have to be slaughtered but if that must be, they should at least get good treatment before their life is ended.
02/06/2011 2:53:49 PM CST
Elena A says ...
Thankyou for your commitment to quality. I am grateful to Whole Foods, farmers, and the organic community for creating and requiring standards that will serve as an example obtainable for all. Hopefully such a commitment will become standard on all farms.
02/07/2011 10:50:40 PM CST
Lissa says ...
I agree with R Prada. What about grass-fed vs. grain-fed? Once I know that information I will be much more comfortable purchasing meat from Whole Foods.
02/09/2011 1:16:13 PM CST
Sonia Turgeon says ...
I have been waiting for this program to be a part of WF markets. Now I can finally buy meat for my family and not feel as guilty about the choice to occasionally eat meat. thank you.
02/09/2011 2:33:59 PM CST
Emily says ...
Hi there! It was recently announced that Whole Foods is coming to Ottawa. Reading this page about the respect and dignity that the animals are treated with warmed my heart. Thank you for investing in and supporting farms that raise animals with care. I'm eager to shop at your store.
02/10/2011 3:41:52 PM CST
Sara Carpien says ...
I was a vegetarian until I became pregnant and my body craved steak, of all things! Guess I needed the iron. Nevertheless, I made a conscious decision to start eating meat, but only via Whole Foods. I appreciate your high standards and dedication to animal welfare. You are forging the way and hopefully, one day, the USDA will make those standards, mandatory, across the board. One can dream. :)
02/10/2011 5:46:46 PM CST
rachel says ...
I love Animals, and Whole Foods loves animals, so I love whole foods. This point system of 1-5+ educates me about my food, I feel like a more conscious consumer. Also, I feel great about where my food comes from and knowing I can buy meat from an animal that lived a good life. Animals are too often abused, but by whole foods supporting these farmers that take care of their animals is economically beneficial and socially responsible. Thank you whole foods!
02/10/2011 6:22:04 PM CST