Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

5-Step Animal Welfare Rating: Pork

By Anne Malleau, February 23, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Anne Malleau

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.

Category: Meat, Animal Welfare




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.
02/23/2011 9:41:59 AM CST
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.
02/23/2011 2:08:12 PM CST
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!
02/23/2011 3:30:33 PM CST
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.
02/23/2011 4:25:25 PM CST
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.
02/23/2011 5:19:27 PM CST
trey says ...
great but... what about when they meet their demise? is there a step program for that?
02/23/2011 6:56:11 PM CST
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!
02/24/2011 10:04:47 AM CST
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®.
02/24/2011 10:38:48 AM CST
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!
02/24/2011 11:26:20 AM CST
Elizabeth says ...
02/24/2011 1:26:51 PM CST
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
02/24/2011 6:16:22 PM CST
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!
02/24/2011 8:54:28 PM CST
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.
02/25/2011 6:59:39 AM CST
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
02/25/2011 4:17:44 PM CST
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.
02/25/2011 7:38:33 PM CST
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.
02/26/2011 3:01:29 PM CST
Martha few says ...
Can we get higher than step 1 at the Tucson store on Speedway?
02/26/2011 4:02:51 PM CST
bepkom says ...
@Martha: As the program expands you will begin to see more and more Step-rated options at your local store.
02/28/2011 1:49:55 PM CST
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.
02/28/2011 6:33:15 PM CST
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.
02/28/2011 7:22:45 PM CST
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.
02/28/2011 11:34:53 PM CST
petronella says ...
The most humane option is to live a vegan life. none of these animals want to be killed :(
03/01/2011 11:40:11 AM CST
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.
03/01/2011 12:43:24 PM CST
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.
03/01/2011 12:52:00 PM CST
Liz says ...
Step 6 ... pigs live in comfort for the remainder of their natural lives and die of natural causes ... never to be eaten.
03/01/2011 3:36:17 PM CST