Meat and Poultry Standards

Animal Welfare Basics

Our Standards for How the Animals Are Raised

If you’re looking for more than great taste and freshness in meat and poultry, we’re here for you. We believe that quality on the table has a lot to do with quality of care in raising the animals. Over decades we’ve developed true partnerships with farmers, ranchers and animal-welfare experts to ensure the treatment of animals is guided by care, responsibility and respect.

No Added Hormones

Giving hormones to animals raised for meat accelerates their growth, getting animals to market faster and reducing feed costs. We believe that good management and focus on the animals' well-being is all the growth incentive they need! Our quality standards for our meat department have always prohibited the administration of hormones. This includes for beef cattle and lamb, the only two species for which the USDA permits the use of hormones. Beta agonists, which are used to enhance the development of lean muscle tissue in livestock, are also prohibited.

No Antibiotics, Ever

Farm animals are given antibiotics for different reasons. Some producers administer them regularly to prevent disease and promote growth. This is an unnecessary practice that we have always prohibited for products in our meat department. In 2002, we deepened our meat department standards to also prohibit antibiotics for treating disease or infection. The health of livestock is maintained by good management, including innovative practices and alternative remedies found effective in treating animals. To ensure that sick animals do not suffer, if an injury or illness does not respond to alternative methods, we require that the animal is treated; however, the meat from that animal cannot be sold to Whole Foods Market meat department.

Animal Care

Caring for farm animals goes beyond prohibiting antibiotics and added hormones. We also take into account the comfort, physical safety and health of the animals. For everything in our meat department, we require producers to verify that their practices meet our requirements. Our meat standards outline our requirements, species by species. For fresh beef, pork, chicken, lamb and turkey (except kosher turkey), we require certification by Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating, which encourages and rewards farmers and ranchers for continually improving their animal-welfare practices. We require kosher turkey farms to be third-party audited to meet our animal welfare standards.

We also have animal welfare standards for hens that lay eggs. All eggs we offer in our dairy case are cage-free, and we’re going beyond that with our Whole Foods Market Animal Welfare Standards for Laying Hens . All eggs used in our own kitchens and bakeries are cage-free, too.

Processing

The way farm animals are raised and treated on the farm or ranch is only part of the story. We also require third-party audits of animal welfare at slaughter plants. The criteria and areas of evaluation were developed by animal-welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin, and they include:

  • Condition of animals upon arrival
  • Calm, efficient unloading procedures
  • Animals handled with patience, skill and respect
  • Well-designed and –maintained facility ensuring quiet movement of animals
  • Non-slip flooring and ramps to reduce the risk of injury to the animals
  • Proper condition and upkeep, plus regular testing of all equipment

Critical stunning efficacy requirements

  • 99% successful stun at first attempt
  • 100% of animals unconscious before slaughter

What Else Makes Our Meat Different

Our meat department has some of the strongest standards in the business, and in our stores. Here’s more info about what goes into our high-quality meat and poultry.

Farm Animal and Meat Standards

At Whole Foods Market, we believe you’ve got a right to know where your food comes from and what goes into it. That includes everything in our meat department. We’ve long worked with our farmer and rancher partners to develop innovative practices for the quality and safety of the meat we offer every day. And we’re serious about the comfort, safety, health and natural behaviors of the animals.

Basic Requirements That Aren’t Basic Everywhere

It might be easy for you to shop for meat to take out of our stores, but it’s not easy for producers to get their meat into our stores. Our baseline requirements are stronger than most anywhere. We salute our farmer and rancher partners, because, to be eligible to sell meat or products that contain meat in our meat department, they must first meet these criteria:

  • Animals must not receive antibiotics, ever. Sick animals must get treatment, but meat from antibiotic-treated animals cannot be sold to Whole Foods Market.
  • Added hormones are prohibited. While federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising pigs, poultry, bison and goats, we don’t allow them in raising beef or lamb, either.
  • Our animal welfare standards must be met.
  • No animal byproducts are allowed in feed, including feather meal and rendered fat.
  • No crates, cages or tethers are permitted during the animal’s daily life. This includes, but is not limited to gestation crates and farrowing stalls for sows, and individual hutches or tethers for veal calves.
  • Beef cattle, sheep and goats must spend at least two-thirds of their life on pasture.
  • Meat from cloned animals is not permitted at Whole Foods Market.
  • Irradiation of meat products is not permitted.

Verification must be provided for:

  • A clear traceability audit system that tracks herds or flocks from each farm through slaughter.
  • A comprehensive recall program.
  • Full disclosure of management practices and feed rations.
  • A robust internal audit program to monitor compliance with our standards, as well as with governmental regulations and the producer’s own protocols.

Additional Standards for Our Meat Department

Species-by-Species

Animals vary physically and behaviorally, so each species has additional specific standards that must be met.

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Bison
  • Lamb
  • Veal

Bacon, Ham, Sausage and Hot Dogs

In addition to our storewide standards for all foods, our standards for these require no synthetic nitrates or nitrites, and no irradiation.

Organic Meat and Poultry

Just like any food labeled organic in the U.S., meat products have to meet very specific, federally regulated standards, including for organic processing. Meat and poultry labeled organic must come from animals fed organic – which also means non-GMO – feed, given fresh air and outdoor access, and raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones.

Grass-Fed Beef and Lamb

The animal must have had continuous access to pasture during the growing season, and cannot be fed grain or grain by-products.

You Can Count On It: Third-Party Audits

For your confidence in shopping and to ensure the best quality at your table, we require mandatory third-party audits of our meat department suppliers’ slaughter and processing facilities. This includes assessments of animal welfare and food safety.

Food safety audits of slaughter and meat processing facilities include:

  • Cleanliness of external areas
  • Facilities, equipment and fabrication practices
  • Coolers, freezers, chilled transport
  • Rodent and insect control
  • Personal hygiene
  • Sanitation
  • Condition and cleanliness of staff areas
  • Documentation

5-Step Animal Welfare Certification

Celebrating Global Animal Partnership's 10-year anniversary and commitment to farm animal welfare.

Improving the lives of farm animals, step-by-step.

At Whole Foods Market, Global Animal Partnership's Animal Welfare Certified means 100+ standards for beef, pork, chicken, lamb and turkey (except kosher turkey) in our meat department. This 5-step system not only gives you the knowledge to make informed food choices, it encourages and rewards farmers and ranchers to improve their welfare practices. So whether you’re looking for a great steak or you want to know where your roasting chicken comes from, this third-party certification system works for you. All of the beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and turkey (except kosher turkey) in our fresh meat case is certified. You’ll find a different selection in each store, but if it doesn’t meet base certification, you won’t see it because we won’t sell it. Remember: To reach even Base Certification, farms and ranches must meet more than 100 requirements!

Committed to transparent farming and ranching practices.

Founded in 2008, Global Animal Partnership is a non-profit organization made up of farmers, scientists, retailers, manufacturers and animal advocates, all collaborating with a common purpose: improving farm animal welfare. For more detailed information and species-specific requirements for each step, visit the Global Animal Partnership website . When you’re shopping our meat department, all meat products must also follow our own basic animal welfare standards.

The steps.

Below are the descriptions you’ll find on Animal Welfare Certified items. From Base Certification to Step 5+, each step has its own requirements that must be met before authorized, independent certifiers can assign a level of certification to the farm or ranch.

Beef

We’re pleased to offer the best selection of beef around with organic, grass-fed, local, dry-aged and grain-finished choices. Signs in our cases make it easy to choose, knowing every option is high quality with great flavor, and even our most basic beef must meet animal-welfare standards and roam the range for at least two-thirds of their lives.

With our beef, you get great-tasting meat from animals raised to our standards:

  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No supplemental growth hormones*
  • No animal byproducts in feed
  • Raised on pasture or range for at least 2/3 of the animal's life

Our beef selection

From local, grass-fed steak to frozen meatballs, each of our stores offers a localized variety of choices for everyday and special occasions.

All of our fresh beef must meet the standards listed above and be 5-Step® Animal Welfare Rated.

Other items in the meat department that are made with beef must come from animals raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones and must be made without hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. Additionally, synthetic nitrates and nitrites, and irradiation are prohibited.

Beef labeled organic must come from animals fed organic – which also means non-GMO – feed, given fresh air and outdoor access, and raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones.

Bison

Bison (buffalo) is slightly more flavorful than beef, with generally less fat and more protein. A single serving provides good amounts of iron, zinc and the antioxidant selenium. Give bison a try the next time you're looking for an alternative to beef in your favorite recipes — your taste buds will thank you!

With our bison, you get great-tasting meat from animals raised to our standards:

  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No supplemental growth hormones*
  • No animal byproducts in feed

Our bison selection

From fresh ground bison to bison sausages, each of our stores offers a localized variety of choices for everyday and special occasions.

Other items in the meat department that are made with bison must come from animals raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones* and must be made without hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. Additionally, synthetic nitrates and nitrites, and irradiation are prohibited.

Pork

We partner with dedicated farms and producers to make sure that our pork is the best whether it's for everyday meals or your special celebrations.

With our pork, you get great-tasting meat from animals raised to our standards:

  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No animal byproducts in feed
  • No gestation or farrowing (birthing) crates
  • Bedding required in housing
  • No supplemental growth hormones*

Our pork selection

From thick-cut pork chops to organic ground pork, each of our stores offers a localized variety of choices for everyday and special occasions.

All of our fresh pork must meet the standards listed above and be 5-Step® Animal Welfare Rated.

Other items in the meat department that are made with pork must come from animals raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones* and must be made without hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. Additionally, synthetic nitrates and nitrites, and irradiation are prohibited.

Pork labeled organic must come from animals fed organic – which also means non-GMO – feed, given fresh air and outdoor access, and raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones.*

Chicken

We care where our chicken comes from — from how it was raised to how it was processed. All our chickens are raised on strictly vegetarian feed, which means you don't have to worry about animal byproducts.

With our chicken, you get great-tasting meat from animals raised to our standards:

  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No animal byproducts in feed
  • No physical alterations
  • Appropriate litter provided for comfort and to satisfy natural foraging instincts
  • No supplemental growth hormones*

Our chicken selection

From organic, kosher or air-chilled fresh chicken to frozen gluten-free chicken nuggets, each of our stores offers a localized variety of choices for everyday and special occasions.

All of our fresh chicken must meet the standards listed above and be 5-Step® Animal Welfare Rated.

Other items in the meat department that are made with chicken must come from animals raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones* and must be made without hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. Additionally, synthetic nitrates and nitrites, and irradiation are prohibited.

Chicken labeled organic must come from animals fed organic – which also means non-GMO – feed, given fresh air and outdoor access, and raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones.*

Turkey

Heritage, heirloom, organic, kosher — these are just a few words that describe our extensive selection of turkeys. We have a bird for every budget and every occasion. Plus, there's no "jive" with our turkeys.

With our turkey, you get great-tasting meat from animals raised to our standards:

  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No animal byproducts in feed
  • No supplemental growth hormones*
  • Appropriate litter provided for comfort and to satisfy natural foraging instincts

Our turkey selection

From organic, kosher or heritage fresh turkey to frozen turkey burgers, each of our stores offers a localized variety of choices for everyday and special occasions.

All of our fresh turkey must meet the standards listed above and be animal welfare certified by a third-party auditor.

Other items in the meat department that are made with turkey must come from animals raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones* and must be made without hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. Additionally, synthetic nitrates and nitrites, and irradiation are prohibited.

Turkey labeled organic must come from animals fed organic – which also means non-GMO – feed, given fresh air and outdoor access, and raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones.*

Lamb

Lamb is wonderfully flavorful. Perfect for burgers, oven roasting or grilling — lamb is a versatile meat and can be prepared quickly for a meal on the fly, or simmered for hours in a rich and hearty stew. Either way, it's worth every moment of effort; the tender results never disappoint!

With our lamb, you get great-tasting meat from animals raised to our standards:

  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No added growth hormones
  • No animal byproducts in feed
  • Raised on pasture or range for at least 2/3 of the animal's life

Our lamb selection

From an impressive grass-fed rack of lamb to seasoned lamb sausages, each of our stores offers a localized variety of choices for everyday and special occasions.

All of our fresh lamb must meet the standards listed above and be 5-Step Animal Welfare Rated.

Other items in the meat department that are made with lamb must come from animals raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones and must be made without hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. Additionally, synthetic nitrates and nitrites, and irradiation are prohibited.

Veal

Our veal is the way to go. Some calves are pasture-raised with mom and some calves are raised in groups with no adult supervision (of the bovine kind!) but have plenty of milk and grain. Either way, our standards prohibit calves being kept in individual stalls or crates, so they have social interactions with other animals. And the meat is exceptional, tender and versatile.

With our veal, you get great-tasting meat from animals raised to our standards:

  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No added growth hormones*
  • No animal byproducts in feed other than cow's milk
  • Pasture-raised or group housing only; no tethering or individual crates
  • Unlimited access to grain (or grass if pasture-raised)

Our veal selection

From tender cutlets to organic ground veal, each of our stores offers a localized variety of choices for everyday and special occasions.

Other items in the meat department that are made with veal must come from animals raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones* and must be made without hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. Additionally, synthetic nitrates and nitrites, and irradiation are prohibited.

Veal labeled organic must come from animals fed organic – which also means non-GMO – feed, given fresh air and outdoor access, and raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones.

*Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising pork, poultry, goats, veal and bison.

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