04 February 2011

Whole Foods new meat rating system puts cruelty in its place

Whole Foods has recently announced a new food labeling system that tells people more about the animals they are eating- where they come from and how they're treated.

According to Whole Foods there's a five-step color-coded rating system that will basically let consumers know what the animals' lives were like.
The rating system is the signature program of Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit organization that facilitates and encourages continuous improvement in animal agriculture. Independent, third-party certifiers audit farms and rate animal welfare practices and conditions using a tiered system that ranges from Step 1 (no crates, no cages, no crowding) to Step 5+ (animals spend their entire lives on one farm). The system provides a way to engage and reward producers by promoting continuous improvement in farm animal welfare. For shoppers, the rating system provides a way to make more informed choices at the meat counter.
I have seriously mixed feelings about this and I hope that it's ultimately a step in the right direction rather than just a way to charge more for happy meat.

I shop Whole Foods as my primary grocer because they are the closest to me and because as a vegan I'm able to find some of the more "fringe" items (like Earth Balance, Vegenaise, and Daiya) that I can't find at some of the, well, lower end, less expensive retailers. As a person that frequents Whole Foods several times per week I feel qualified to say that their target market tends to be people who think of themselves as more educated or intelligent than the majority or people and are willing to spend more money on products they perceive as novel or higher quality ($5 for a jar of vegan mayo, anyone?). These are people that are likely already interested to some degree in what they're eating and where it comes from.

As an abolitionist, of course I wish they'd just stop selling animal products all together and I find it conflicting that Whole Foods founder, John Mackey, is reportedly vegan but still profits from animal exploitation, even if Whole Foods allegedly has higher standards of care for the animals they're calling food. Part of me loves the idea though of shaming people into buying higher quality "products" because I think in a store where image matters, no one is going to feel comfortable walking up to the cashier with the lowest grade, cruelest meat.

What I do like about this system is that it forces people to acknowledge every time that they buy animal products that something had to die in order for them to eat it and sometimes the life beforehand was tragic and horrible. While I understand that with any regulation there has to be a regulator and that things often go ignored or unregulated, I think that this is an incremental step worth making since many people don't even think about what they're eating. It's like putting a bumper sticker on your car that reads, "Hey kids, meat is animals!"

I hope to see this program at many other retailers in the future, especially the ones that sell low quality, poorly treated animal flesh. It may be a small step but if you're going to buy the cruelest of cruelty, that awareness should be in your face so you can perhaps take a minute to reflect and say, "Do I really want to eat this?"

Ryan Leitch
Ryan is an Abolitionist Vegan Activist and her passion for all things vegan consumes her. Animals are here with us, not for us. Her favorite outreach activities include writing and blogging, hosting movie screenings, tabling and leafletting, demonstrations, potlucks, and Vegan Drinks. You can also find Ryan at Vegan Minneapolis.

Photo credit: Whole Foods