Whole Foods Market Inc., the US based natural and organic food chain is rolling out its Animal Welfare labeling system to Canada, after a successful launch earlier this year in the US.
The 5 step system labels chicken, beef and pork, letting consumers know exactly where the animal has come from and the methods with which it was raised. The packaging is color-coded and the colors indicate a progression along a scale of compliance with welfare practices.
While requirements vary by species at step one, the first level in the program, all farmers must refrain from using antibiotics, growth hormones and animal by-products in their feed; they must also refrain from physically altering their livestock in ways that are common in conventional agriculture (trimming beaks, docking tails, removing teeth). To progress upward in the rating system, farms are ranked on everything from the space animals are allotted to the amount of time they spend outdoors and the distance to slaughter destination.
The chain refuses to carry meat from vendors who do not at least qualify for the bottom rung of the program.
Whole Foods is the first mass supermarket to adopt animal welfare standards. The move is a response to public demand as people have become more aware of the broken system being supported by their grocery dollars.
“We know through consumers surveys that for over a decade there has been growing concern about how animals are raised for food,” said Miyun Park, executive director of Global Animal Partnership, a multinational non-profit that developed the standards used by the standards used by Whole Foods. “Polling in the U.S. shows this clearly." She added that one recent study indicates that 97 percent of respondents agree that animals deserve protection from harm and exploitation.
Overall, the public does not want to contribute to animals being bred only for profit with no regard for their inability to exhibit natural behaviors, along with the suffering they endure throughout their lives. Movies like Food Inc. have helped to draw attention to the largely unknown plight of animals in the food chain.
Education is the key to the changes being implemented and with Whole Foods' program reaching further abroad, there is the potential for other supermarket chains to adopt similar systems in the years to come.
Photo credit: Whole Foods