AUSTIN, Texas – Whole Foods Market announced the fresh beef, pork and chicken sold in its meat departments in US stores are now certified under the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system.

Created to address growing concerns about farm animal welfare, this system is the signature program of the nonprofit Global Animal Partnership. The rating system identifies incrementally higher welfare practices and conditions within farm animal production systems. Independent third-party certifiers audit and rate farms’ animal welfare practices and conditions using a tiered system of Steps 1 to 5+:

  • Step 1: No cages, no crates, no crowding
  • Step 2: Enriched environment
  • Step 3: Enhanced outdoor access
  • Step 4: Pasture centered
  • Step 5: Animal centered; no physical alterations
  • Step 5+: Animal centered; entire life on the same farm

Whole Foods Market claims to be the first retailer to adopt the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system. The company began rolling out the system in February 2011 with the goal of improving the lives of farm animals.

More than 1,300 farms and ranches have been certified, which means approximately 140 million farm animals are raised in welfare-focused environments. Signs and stickers throughout Whole Foods Market meat departments identify these Step ratings.

“Whole Foods Market has worked hand-in-hand with our producers for many years to encourage a humane approach to raising animals,” said Anne Malleau, global animal production and welfare coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “Now, the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system provides a way to engage and reward these producers by promoting continuous improvement in farm animal welfare. This rating system also informs our customers about how the animals are raised for the meat they are buying.”

All meat sold at Whole Foods Market must be raised on a vegetarian diet without being administered antibiotics or added growth hormones. The company is also working to certify further processed meats, such as bacon and ham, to the rating system. Additional species will be rated as Global Animal Partnership standards are completed.