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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Moving Up: Get the Lowdown on 5-Step Beef

 

Okay, so by now you must have seen our new signage at the meat counter for our beef, chicken and pork or maybe you’ve read our chicken and pork blogs over the last couple of weeks. We now require our beef cattle, chicken and pig farms to be audited and certified to the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards – the signature program of Global Animal Partnership. So let’s talk beef. What does it all mean? The program is multi-tiered but essentially the higher the Step number, the more time the animals spend on range or pasture and the more natural their life. Note: Because it takes about two years to raise beef cattle, ranchers often specialize in raising calves or yearlings or finishing cattle, so these animals are often moved from ranch to ranch at various ages.

One of the unique aspects of the 5-Step program is that every ranch involved in rearing cattle throughout the production chain has been audited and certified. While cattle may spend parts of their lives at operations certified to different Step levels, the final rating on the package will always show the lowest Step rating issued in that particular production chain.

 

Step 1 requires no antibiotics - ever, no added growth hormones, and no animal by-products in the feed. Calves must remain with their mothers for a minimum of 6 months, spend at least 2/3 of their lives on range or pasture, and are typically moved to yards for finishing. Additionally, sourcing animals from auction barns is prohibited. In fact there are approximately 115 requirements that ranchers need to meet to be certified at Step 1.

Step 2 builds on Step 1 with the same requirements but also calls for enrichments. Cattle also must be provided with structures for shelter and objects for scratching and grooming.

There is no Step 3 in the cattle standards. The purpose of Step 3 in the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards is to ensure outdoor access for farm animals. Since the program requires cattle to have access to the outdoors their entire lives, Step 3 is not relevant to them.

At Step 4, ranches must meet the pasture-centered requirement for raising cattle. The animals must spend at least 3/4 of their life on range or pasture and can only be removed due to seasonal conditions that compromise their welfare. They cannot be kept in finishing yards. Cows and calves are also kept together for at least 6 months (but it’s usually longer) before being weaned.

 

At Steps 5 and 5+, all physical alterations, including castration, are prohibited. This is particularly challenging here in North America where calves are nearly always castrated when they are young, but we know some of our producers are already facing this head-on. And at Step 5+, transport is prohibited, so calves must be born and spend their entire lives on one ranch. We’ll continue to support our producers as they explore ways to reach these levels.

Over 345 ranches have been certified - here are our beef producers with their associated Step-rating: Step 1 – Country Natural Beef (Natural), Creekstone, Meyer, Nature’s Harvest, Pineland, and Open Prairie Step 4 – American Grassfed, Baldwin Beef, Caldwell Family Farms, Country Natural Beef (Pasture), Cold Spring Ranch, Eel River, Grassfed Livestock Alliance, Lasater Grasslands Beef, Lowfields, Maui Cattle Company, Mountain Meadows, Panorama, Sanger, Simply Grazin’, and White Oak Pastures.

While Step-ratings do not yet cover slaughter, Whole Foods Market requires every slaughter plant to pass annual audits for animal welfare that are based on American Meat Institute’s Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines and Audit Guide written by Temple Grandin. We have tightened the requirements in a couple places, but all audits, conducted by a third party, are designed to assess and ensure good animal welfare and handling at each plant. The more you know about our meat, the better.

So next time you’re at the meat counter, consider buying Step-rated beef and tell us what you think!