Inside the 5-Step Inspection Process

These third-party certifiers are the boots on the ground for assessing the animals, checking records and talking with farmers to ensure compliance with the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards.

More than 1400 farms and ranches have been audited and certified to the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards Program opens in a new tab and all of these operations have had on-site inspections. That’s a lot of sites to visit! So what’s involved? Since EVERY farm requires an on-site audit, inspectors typically spend 30-40% of their time on the road — that’s a lot of traveling!  Each inspector can conduct up to 12 inspections in a week, depending on the species, how close the farms are to each other, and any requirements the farm has in place for visitors. They spend time out in the field assessing the animals, checking records, and talking with the farmer to check for compliance.All 5-Step inspections follow the same process:


If the farm or ranch doesn’t meet a standard at the time of the on-site inspection, they are given an opportunity to correct the issue and an additional review is carried out. Global Animal Partnership has approved three domestic independent, third-party certifiers to conduct farm and ranch inspections and to make Step determinations. I spoke with each of them this week to get their perspectives on the 5-Step Program.

Andrea Caroe, Chief Operations Officer of EarthClaims LLC opens in a new tab, explains, “As the first GAP-approved certifier, we have worked with the 5-Step Program from the beginning. We’ve noticed that farmers are proud to show us the good work they do and we’re seeing more farmers make improvements to move up to higher steps. Because the standards promote continual improvement, many farmers use 5-Step as a road map to improving animal welfare, which is good for everyone. I really believe that Whole Foods’ suppliers are already focused on using good animal welfare practice and Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Program allows them to communicate their success to the customer.”

The Steritech Group Inc opens in a new tab started conducting inspections in the summer of 2009. “We’ve been auditing different farm and plant programs since 1986, and I can tell you that the 5-Step Program is unique.” Joe McCommons, Senior Supply Chain Auditor, continues, “Firstly, inspectors visit each site every 15 months, so eventually, over a number of years, animals will be seen in every season, which is novel. Secondly and more importantly, Global Animal Partnership is the standards setter, basing their standards on the impact to the animal rather than what is common practice – which is definitely a refreshing approach.”

The most recent certifier to be approved by Global Animal Partnership was IMI Global Inc opens in a new tab, in October 2010. Leann Saunders, President of IMI, talks about her team’s experience: “We are very excited to be part of this new process and direction. While we’ve been verifying farm claims for the last 16 years, the 5-Step Program is distinct not only due to its animal focus but also because of the different Step levels within the same program – there’s really nothing like it in today’s industry.  It’s not an easy program for farmers and ranchers, but what we’ve noticed is that Whole Foods suppliers are dedicated to fulfilling customer needs and that takes commitment.”Lastly, it’s important to point out that ALL inspectors are trained and ratified by Global Animal Partnership, so you can rest assured that by using independent third-party certifiers, Step ratings are thorough, fair and accurate.

So, next time you are in our stores, give Step-rated beef, chicken or pork a try and tell us what you think!

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