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5-Step Animal Welfare Rating: Pork

If you’ve been to our meat counter in the last couple of weeks, you probably have noticed a few changes. With the launch of the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards – the signature program of Global Animal Partnership – we’ve got new signage, brochures and labels for our Step-rated beef, chicken and pork! So what does it mean? Basically, the higher the Step number, the more interesting their environment, the more time the animals spend outside, and the more natural their life. Last week we talked about Steps 1 to 5 for our chicken. This week I want to tell you about our Step-rated pork – approximately 450 pig farms are able to supply Steps 1 through 4!

So let’s dive a bit deeper and see how the multi-tiered program impacts pigs and the farmers who raise them. At the first level, the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards program prohibits the use of crates or stalls, typically used on many pig farms. Instead, pigs at Step 1 are group-raised in barns or hoop houses. Another departure from customary practice is the flooring. Rather than spending their lives on barren, slatted flooring, Step 1 pigs are raised on good quality bedding, which helps keep them warm and comfortable. In addition, the common practices of routine tail docking and tooth clipping are not allowed. For Step 1, our pork suppliers must meet more than 110 different requirements — quite an achievement!

Step 2 requires a more enriched environment for the animals. For example, pigs have a strong drive to root and forage. In order to provide these opportunities in an indoor environment, Step-rated farmers have gotten very creative. Some provide straw bales — it’s quite a sight to see the pigs actively digging up the straw, pushing it around the pens and eating it! Other producers have provided novel objects in pens to keep pigs busy – some of our suppliers have hung chains from ceilings so the pigs can knock them around and play with them.

At Step 3, pigs must have continuous access to the outdoors during the day. Pigs can spend their time inside or roam around outside — it’s their choice. And since the Steps build on each other, Step 3 farmers also provide enrichments indoors so that the pigs can continue to root after dark or during bad weather.

At Step 4, pigs live continuously on pasture or outdoor foraging areas. Sounds easy, right? Well, going a step farther and not only giving pigs outdoor access but raising them outside takes a different kind of farming.

The 5-Step program requires that the pigs always have access to vegetative material so they can forage, and the pastures must have at least 25% vegetative cover – which is no easy feat with pigs rooting the land daily – so farmers need to be great land stewards as well as great animal managers! Pigs are prone to heat stress and sunburn, so wallows are required — these big muddy puddles are the best way to keep pigs cool on hot, sunny days. Pigs also have free access to housing or huts, which can be especially important during the winter months.

Steps 5 and 5+ are much more challenging for farmers, particularly here in North America where pigs are nearly always castrated when they are young to avoid what’s been called “boar taint” – a flavor that our palates aren’t used to. Since all physical alterations, including castration, are prohibited at Steps 5 and 5+, this is a significant challenge, but one that we know some of our producers are already facing head-on.

Step 5 also requires piglets to be raised with their littermates for their whole lives. And at Step 5+, transport is prohibited, so the pigs must be born and spend their entire lives on one farm. We’ll continue to support our producers as they explore ways to reach these levels. We are pleased to partner with dedicated family-owned farms and producers to bring you great-tasting meat. And don’t forget we also require no antibiotics - ever, no added growth hormones*, and no animal by-products in the feed.

*Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising pork.

Here are our some of our pork producers with their associated Step ratings: Step 1 – American Homestead, Coleman Pork, Les Viandes du Breton, Heritage Acres and Niman Ranch Step 2 – American Homestead, Fox Hill Farms and Sweet Stem Farm (formerly Meadow Run Farm) Step 3 – Becker Lane and Dogwood Nursery Step 4 – Lucki 7 Livestock Company, NC Hog Cooperative, Simply Grazin’ and Thompson Farms

Note:  Many of these are small producers who supply only the stores that are local to their farms.

Have you tried Step-rated pork yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts! The more you know about our meat, the better.

Editor’s Note: This blog was modified on 9/22/15 to update how we refer to our standards.

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65 comments

Comments

Mary Hopf says …

Now that I've read the step program I intend to become a dedicated customer of Whole Foods. I just hope the rest of the country sees how much better food can be when raised the old fashioned way. Thank you

Jim says …

I will have to come in and see you new meat set up. I'm glad to hear you all are doing something extra to ensure quality.

Lain says …

This lack of respect and awareness for sentient beings is profound! It is one thing to be a shameless and obviously unconscious profiteer, but this display of consciously "claiming" to care about the welfare of nonhuman animals is beyond comprehension. I know most people cannot see past Whole Foods' obscene "happy meat" profiteering, but please know we are not all sheeple! I also know I am not your sheeple demographic, so you do not care, but how you, and the many welfare orgs (who "we" know are nothing more than happy meat industry PR Reps) market this murder, is again, beyond comprehension!

Jasmine says …

This is absolutely wonderful! I've alwayed eaten less pork than other meats (maybe only once a year) simply because they are seem so cute, intelligent, and complex compared to chickens and cows. I wish everyone would stop eating pork altogether, but as a second choice this is really great. Sounds so much better than factory farming. I'd pay much more for meat raised in better conditions. I hope this catches on.

Catriona Gold says …

This article is very worrying to me. As Lynn says, there is no humane way to kill an animal; and, indeed, if these animals have really had such wonderful lives (which, given that they continue to be treated as automatons bred for profit, is doubtful) you can't even frame death as a blessed release from the horrors of a factory farm. It's all the more abhorrent to violently end a 'good' life. If you're concerned about animals, please think about veganism. Not only is it the only truly ethical choice with respect to animals' lives, it's also the only environmentally conscious choice, not to mention much cheaper than buying so-called 'humane' flesh.

talmis says …

OK the labeling for welfare is great...but why on earth did you remove the organic labels from most of your meats?...you can raise an animal that is welfare level 5 and still give them antibiotics and hormones and do not report it at all....I need both labels there please!!!!

Bepkom says …

@Talmis: Thank you for your comment. Our Quality Standards for all our meat, regardless of welfare rating, dictate no antibiotics and no added hormones ever.

talmis says …

Hi Michael, I am a very frequent buyer in wholefoods and I want to keep buying meat there...but I (and several of my friends) are really questioning why do not you just try to have the organic certification (e.g. USDA organic) label next to the Animal welfare rating?... It is great that you state that animals do not receive antibiotics and do not receive any hormones, but this is not a certification....National Standards are important too....and the USDA organic is a good certification...before that label I was constantly worried when I tried any new product because I have a very large array of allergies and this label actually has saved me from many bad food surprises... I can trust you but not necessarily the source of your meat...you can have an animal with animal welfare rate of 4 and still receive antibiotics if this is not certified by a qualified agency....(e.g USDA or better if possible). I was raised in an area where people produced chickens and eggs, and some of them will meet all the standards for level 5...grown in the same location, always outside, very enriched environment...but the farmer if had a problems with an animal getting sick will just buy a mix of "medicine" and throw it in the ground and the animals will eat it ...

Beverlee Groff says …

I do appreciate the fact whole foods as started the rating system. But as a frequent shopper in your store, I also want to be able to purchase products that are Certified Humane Raised and Handled®. I know that products with this specific certification come from animals that were raised with strict humane standards from birth through the slaughter process. The nation’s leading humane organizations back the Certified Humane® program and USAToday called Certified Humane® a gold standard. This is a label that I trust and I would like to purchase these products in your store. I ask that you start selling products that are Certified Humane®.

Elizabeth says …

i'M ABSOLUTELY ESTATIC TO READ, THAT THE WELFARE OF ANIMALS IS BEING TAKEN TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL. I HOPE AND PRAY THIS WILL CONTINUE AND WE WILL ENDUCATE OUR YOUTH ON PROPPER CARE AND FEEING OF ALL OF GODS CREATURES. EVEN THOUGH WE MAY EAT MEAT- IT IS A LIVING CREATURE- THEY HAVE FEELINGS, THEY EXPERIENCE PAIN JUST AS WEL DO. -ELIZABETH NEW ORLEANS, LA

Martha few says …

Can we get higher than step 1 at the Tucson store on Speedway?

CAROL says …

I think that the 5 step program is great it is good to know that the animals are taken care of and are treated humanely

Linda says …

The visual of pigs wandering free in their huts, playing with chains, staying with their littermates is appealing. I just know in my gut that meat from "happy pigs" has got to taste better and be better than that from the caged animals. Good karma!

Lynette says …

After reading these articles on the step process. We have decided that the little extra cost was worth it. My husband was raised on good farm meats and we had forgotten the difference in taste. I hated the smell of cooking pork but tonight we had pork chops and there was none of that nasty smell. Thank you for making that commitment to humane treatment for animals.

Emma Quinn says …

I hate to break it to commenter Catherine but ALL meat that is eaten comes from slaughtered animals. Even step 99. Unless you eat them alive. This stuff sounds great but ultimately Whole Foods is planting the seeds of its own demise, by implying that animals have "rights." You cannot have rights without responsibilities.

Babs says …

This is why I will pay more for a brand like "La Quercia", a company that exemplifies genuine "Stewardship" within the pork industry. Thank you for picking up this product line, it's not only incredibly delicious, but produced with respect and loving care.

Ed says …

I'm all for having healthy, hormone-free, antibiotic-free meat, but I think a lot of this is a bit too much. Especially Step 5. "Boar-Taint"? ewww. I agree with not having an abusive environment for those animals we'll eventually be eating, but i think there's a limit to what we need to do. This seems to be over the limit and I dont think it's worth the extra price we would be paying. If people are concerned about the well being of an animal and whether they are happy or not should be a vegetarian. Which makes perfect sense.

Buttered Biscuit says …

I guess you are trying to price pork right out of the store. This will make your market more sharia friendly. Congratulations.

Lamans says …

Because studies have shown that plants feel pain when will whole foods stop encouraging the slaughter of innocent plants by selling vegetable? We as a society needs to be good stewards to the land and quit consuming all products period.

talmis says …

I just found out that the CEO of Wholefoods is in the Board of Directors of "Global Animal Partnership"...so...you are certifying your own products...that is not right at all.... can you explain how are we going to feel reassured by a system of certification and review that is actually completely linked to the CEO of the company being reviewed?

trey says …

great but... what about when they meet their demise? is there a step program for that?

Lauren says …

I am very excited about this new step program. It eases my mind when I can clearly tell which of my options are the most humane.

Ray says …

Thank-you Whole Foods for providing such high quality meats to consumers (I follow the Primal Blueprint/Paleo lifestyle, so my diet is center around fatty cuts of meat!). I love the thick (14-16 ounces) pork chop my Whole Foods Market carry. Love to know that the pigs (and the other animals) are well taken of. Go piggy! Go piggy! Go piggy!

Catherine says …

These steps are certainly above how pigs are treated at traditional family farms, but with the exception of Steps 5 and 5+, the pigs in steps 1-4 still must endure transport and slaughter.

Daniell says …

I've been a vegetarian since the age of fourteen, not necessarily because I'm opposed to the eating of meat but because I'm opposed to the way animals raised as livestock are treated. While I doubt this initiative will have me going back to bacon it makes me much more comfortable feeding my fiance pork. I doubt I'll be buying meat from anywhere but Whole Foods from now on.

Lynn says …

It doesn't matter how well an animal is treated or how comfortable their surroundings are. There is still no humane way to kill them. There's more to eat than meat!

Bepkom says …

@Trey: Thank you so much for the question. No matter what the STEP rating, we require all our animals to be slaughtered humanely. One of the most crucial steps in this process is properly stunning the animal prior to death so they are unconscious and don’t feel anything. Every slaughter plant is audited each year for animal welfare as part of our Whole Foods Market requirements, and one of the core components is to check for proper stunning. I hope this answers your question and have a great day!

Karen says …

End result: pig gets to keep his gonads but loses his head. We feel better eating him at the dinner table. This is crazy!!!

Corey says …

I haven't been to Whole Foods since moving to NYC, but I will definitely be taking a trip there this week to pick up some pork loin chops and organic, grass fed beef. Whole Foods is one of the only places where I can extra lean grass fed and organic ground beef.

Leslie Sneed says …

I am so pleased that you are taking these steps to ensure these animals have a better quality of life.

Bepkom says …

@Martha: As the program expands you will begin to see more and more Step-rated options at your local store.

Melissa says …

First of all I think it's about time that an animals quality of life is taken into consideration. I disagree with Emma - whether animals have rights or not has absolutely nothing to do with the way we treat them. I think for most people that is a "no brainer." I happen to take to heart what the Bible says about being stewards of the Earth - I believe animals were created with certain innate needs and characteristics which make them unique - it is wrong to take away an animals right to live in accordance with its nature. We live in a world where we do not HAVE to eat meat - but if we must then I think we can at least let them live a life first before we take it from them.

OrganicSizeMe says …

With all due respect to WF's and your Step 5 program. I'd rather just see Step 5. I'm not a vegetarian yet, but if the animals in this county don't start living their lives the way they're suppose to, I will soon be one.

petronella says …

The most humane option is to live a vegan life. none of these animals want to be killed :(

Helena says …

While shopping at WF yesterday, I immediately noticed the addition of the Step 4 pork options at your meat counter. Please keep these options coming, and please continue to strive for Step 5 and Step 5+. Many consumers are waiting for these options, and will purchase these products when available.

Traveler says …

Thank you for implementing the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. In addition to striving for 5 and 5+ rated meats, please continue to expand your selection of grass-fed, grass-finished meat products. There is a growing consumer base interested in purchasing such products. Thank you.

Liz says …

Step 6 ... pigs live in comfort for the remainder of their natural lives and die of natural causes ... never to be eaten.

Robin says …

This is a HUGE step foreward for animal welfare! I'm so glad to hear about such wonderful progress! This kind of change comes about slowly, and with programs like this I'm much more optimistic about the future.

stank_luv says …

I hope they also give the name of the pig I am about to buy and eat, so I can refer to him respectfully as he is devoured by my jaws of life..."mmmm porky wasn't so lucky the other day was he?"

Cindy says …

I don’t eat pigs at ALL. They are sweet and gentle creatures – smart like dogs. I do think this is a step up for people that eat meat. Although I still think there is something barbaric about eating sweet and innocent animals when we have so many other things that we can eat – that do not have feelings and lives. Pigs and cows are very smart and have feelings and feel pain, etc. Many food factories torture these animals just before they are murdered for food. Cows see other cows being killed and react with fright and horror just before they are killed in the same way. It makes me ashamed to be human when I hear these things. So I will say this: If you pig eaters want to eat bacon, the LEAST you can do is buy from a STEP 5 farm to make sure that pig had a happy life. That is the LEAST you can do. And the next time you are chewing on a piece of bacon, enjoying every bite, I just want you to remember that Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man” – where aliens came down and started farming humans to eat. Just like we do to the animals that we eat. Yes, it’s just a make-believe show – but it makes you think. What if we had no choice? Or what if your soul were that pig or cow about to be killed in a factory line? Emma, I do not agree with what you say at all. You say that to have rights, you must have responsibilities? Should a baby human not have rights then? Babies don’t have responsibilities. Should mental/elderly/handicapped patients that must be cared for in every way not have rights just because they don’t have responsibilities? If your soul were in a chicken’s body – trapped in a crowded crate your whole, short life - how would you feel? I guess your soul would understand – because like you said – you should have no rights.

Tofor says …

I've noticed this blog spends a lot of time covering the rearing of animals but so precious little on the processing aspect. That is the information we all need to ensure that the product we are ingesting is being handled in a manner that maintains its peak freshness and natural flavors while minimizing cross-contamination and the spread of harmful bacteria/disease. The only company that I have found that provides solid information on processing is Bell and Evans (chicken not pork). Fortunately B&E products are sold at WF. A great (and necessary, IMO) leap in the content of these blog posts would be a full description of the processing standards WF demands in addition to how the animals are raised.

says …

@TDM Since each store sources their products as locally as possible, the best way to learn what supplier the pigs are provided by is to reach out to your community Whole Foods Market directly. The link below will help you identify the contact information for your store and a Team Member there will be happy to discuss the sourcing of our pork products. Thanks for reaching out! www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores

Liz says …

Do any of your step ratings take into consideration the disposal method of the animals' waste? After reading a publication ('Endeavors', Winter, 2012) by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this is a significant concern. Specifically related to pigs, the 'hog-waste lagoons' are pools of excrement that sit for months. After a period of time, the waste is then sprayed over fields as fertilizer. Air and water become contaminated (including the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the ground water due to antibiotics given to the hogs) and humans are experiencing deleterious health effects. Research has revealed that the placement of these 'traditional hog-waste management systems' are more likely to be found in the vicinity of people living in poverty. In light of this sort of information, I would like to be aware of the waste management method connected to the meat I'm buying at your store. Thank you...

says …

@Liz I reached out to our Global Animal Product Standards Expert, Liz Fry and here is her response. "Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Animal Welfare standards require solid flooring for pigs with no more than 25% of the floor in slats under the feeders and waterers as well as stringent air quality requirements. The 5-Step standards and Whole Foods Market both prohibit antibiotics. This precludes the type of system described in the article."

TDM says …

So - the question is : where do the slaughtered pigs come from? My local Whole Foods claims to offer local poultry and humanely raised beef. But what about the pork?

Sarah says …

Love your rating system!!! So empowering!!

Stacy says …

Lynn, There's more to eat than meat? Tell that to my son who's allergic to all grains, dairy & eggs!

betty says …

[DIRECT RESPONSE - NN] Hi, I shop in the LA and Pasadena WF and I have yet to see pork above step 1. Any chance of seeing it in these stores at some point?

Linda Watt says …

I recently shopped at a new Whole Foods Market. It was wonderful. I noticed though that you are selling veal. I have heard that calves are inhumanely treated to produce veal. Why are you carrying veal?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LINDA - Thanks for your question. In our mission to offer the highest quality, freshest foods to our customers, there will inevitably be products that do not appeal to everyone, and, in the case of some products, indeed offend some people. Here are some facts about the veal that we carry: The veal we sell at Whole Foods Market is truly unique from an animal welfare standpoint. Whether raised in group housing or on pasture, our standards prohibit crates or tethers as well as the administration of antibiotics or added hormones. (The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in raising veal.) Our standards for barn-raised veal require that calves are raised in group housing with plenty of room to move around, play and rest. To be labeled “pasture-raised,” calves must remain with their mothers on a diet of mother’s milk and grass. I hope this helps!

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