Saturday, February 5, 2011

5-Step Animal Welfare Rating: An Intriguing Idea

A new press release has intrigued me, offering assistance to consumers concerned about sustainability and the sourcing of their meat. And this effort apparently was born out of the desire of a large corporation to promote higher welfare standards for themselves.

Whole Foods Market is now selling beef, pork and chicken that has been certified under a new 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system.  The rating system is the signature program of Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit organization comprised of members of the farming, ranching, retail, and scientific communities, as well as four of the world’s largest animal advocacy organizations. Though the idea seemed to originate with Whole Foods, they wanted to ally with an independent organization to have a greater overall impact.  But, it also appears the Global Animal Partnership has an exclusive, two-year partnership with Whole Foods, which should have lapsed by this time.

Under the Welfare Rating system, independent, third-party certifiers audit farms and rate animal welfare practices and conditions using a tiered system that ranges from Step 1 (no crates, cages or crowding) to their best rating Step 5+ (animals spend their entire lives on one farm). More than 1,200 farms and ranches have received Step certification. It is hoped that this system will encourage farms and ranches to improve themselves and move up the certification ladder.  Plus, it will help consumers better understand the source of their meat. Color-coded signs and stickers throughout Whole Foods will identify the Step ratings.

With an overarching goal to continuously improve the lives of farm animals, Global Animal Partnership’s 5- Step Animal Welfare Rating system is one of the single most impactful programs we have implemented to date at Whole Foods Market,” said A.C. Gallo, president and chief operating officer for Whole Foods Market. “Our customers have long been asking for information on the raising practices on the farms and ranches that provide products to our stores. We are proud to adopt this new rating system that helps shoppers make even more informed buying decisions while offering them peace of mind that the animals from our producers are raised with care.”

I'm so honored that Global Animal Partnership was able to work with Whole Foods Market as our pilot partner. Their commitment to fully adopting our 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program is definitely going to have a significant and positive impact on animal agriculture - to the benefit of farmers and ranchers, consumers and the animals themselves,” said Miyun Park, executive director for Global Animal Partnership. “We're already in discussions with other grocers and restaurateurs, who, like Whole Foods Market, are dedicated to improving the welfare of farm animals.”

The Global Animal Partnership is currently working on additional standards for egg-laying hens, sheep and lambs, and turkeys.  In addition, they are updating their three existing standards, based on information from their two-year pilot program and new science. 

Their current standards appear extensive, and will provide plenty of valuable information about the rated farms and ranches.  Providing consumers with such additional information is certainly a worthy endeavor and one to be commended. I am curious though how consumers will be educated about the rating system.  How will employees at Whole Foods explain the system?  Will the employees know enough to adequately answer questions?  Will brochures be passed out discussing the ratings?

I have been told that there is plenty of signage at the stores and that brochures and other materials are available as well. Plus, the employees have undergone training for this program in order to answer customer inquiries.  I will check on these matters when I stop by Whole Foods soon.

In addition, I am curious how the rating system might affect pricing.  Will each higher rating be more expensive than lower ratings, and if so, how much more expensive?  Cost is a strong factor for consumers so I am curious whether the highest rated meats will be priced out of the reach of most consumers. 
As for the future of the rating system, it will be interesting to see which other retailers decide to adopt it.  Will it spread to other large supermarket chains, or will it only spread to small, independent markets?

Though I have questions, my initial impression is that this rating system could be very beneficial.  The goal of providing more information for consumers is a noble one.  I will have to check out Whole Foods and see how the rating system is used and explained.  When I receive more information, I will report back.

Does anyone else have any experience with this new rating system?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just recently learned about this rating system. For a long time I have been concerned about the way animals are treated in factory farms. I stopped by Whole Foods on my way home from work this evening and picked up some flank steak at 14.99 a pound. I grilled it. simply with only salt and pepper because I didn't want anything masking the taste of the meat. It was one of the best pieces of beef I have ever had. Tender, juice and flavorful. Oh and it was tier 4 meat. As far as the cost, yes it is more expensive, but my goal is to eat less meat, so I can afford it.