Whole Foods expands animal welfare rules to Canada

U.S. organic food retailer Whole Foods Market has expanded its animal welfare rating promotion to include livestock destined for the meat cases at its Canadian supermarkets.

While not likely to make massive waves in Canada’s retail sector — the chain’s Canadian footprint today includes just four stores in Vancouver and two in the Greater Toronto Area — the expansion applies to about 200 Canadian producers who supply beef, pork and chicken to those stores.

The system, announced Wednesday, is developed and managed by Global Animal Partnership, a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit group that was created in 2008 to manage retailers’ animal welfare standards, with Whole Foods as its pilot partner.

The group “encourages continuous improvement in animal agriculture” through a tiered system, dubbed the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating.

In the rating system, third-party certifiers audit farms and rate animal welfare practices and conditions starting at Step 1 (“no crates, cages or crowding”) to Step 5-plus (“animals spend their entire lives on one farm”).

Canadian producers currently supplying Whole Foods with product have all received Step certification, the company said in a release. Colour-coded signs and stickers in Whole Foods Markets’ meat departments identify the products’ Step ratings, and Step-rated options are now available at all six Canadian stores, the company added.

Whole Foods has had a similar program in place at its six U.K. stores since 2007, and launched the Global Animal Partnership program at its 300-odd U.S. stores this past February.

“Additional species will receive rating as Global Animal Partnership standards are completed,” the company said Wednesday.

“Remarkable”

“In my 20 years of working with ranchers and farmers in Ontario and across Canada, this is the largest commitment to improving farm animal welfare that I have seen,” Anne Malleau, the global animal production and welfare co-ordinator for Austin, Tex.-based Whole Foods, said in the company’s release.

“Producers need to meet approximately 100 requirements to get a Step 1 certification, so achieving the first level is a remarkable accomplishment.”

Vincent Breton, president of Riviere-du-Loup, Que. pork processor Les Viandes duBreton, a Whole Foods supplier, described the 5-Step system as a “forward-thinking” program.

“Like many animals, pigs are happiest when they’re in their natural surroundings, doing the things they love to do, like roam free without being crowded,” he said in Whole Foods’ release. “Having a Step 1 rating, my pigs do just that. They live in a comfortable environment, which can only lead to a higher-quality product.”

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