Vet's Opinion

Whole Foods’ Welfare Ratings Have Big Credibility Gap

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Whole Foods Market is a natural and organic food store that recently received some press based on their cooperation with Global Animal Partnership (GAP) and their development of the 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Standards. Many of these standards are simply common sense, while others are not related to animal welfare at all. My concern is that standards such as these often become models for regulations in the future.

So, who developed these standards? GAP’s board of directors include:

Miyun Park, GAP’s executive director, holds a BA in philosophy and is a former vice president of farm animal welfare for the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS). Here’s a quote from her profile: “I grew up without much, if any, contact with animals and didn’t begin learning about farming and its impacts on animals until I was at university.”

Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of HSUS. He holds a BA in history and environmental studies.

Steven Gross, PhD, is a corporate consultant for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the CEO of Farm Forward. Farm Forward’s mission is to “implement innovative strategies to promote conscientious food choices, reduce farm animal suffering, and advance sustainable agriculture.”

This is not an all-inclusive list, but it illustrates GAP’s strong presence of animal-rights-oriented board members. Other board members include owners of organic/natural farming operations; there are no conventional farmers on the board.

As the name implies, there are five levels of standards. Currently there are standards for beef cattle, broiler chickens and pigs. All standards include Steps 1 through 5+ (although beef cattle standards don’t have a Step 3), with Step 1 being the lowest level of “acceptable” standards.

Many standards make sense and are commonplace on most operations. These would include limits on electric prod usage, standards on body condition scores, and feeding guidelines such as “animals must be provided a full ration that supplies optimal nutrition…”

But then, there are regulations such as, “therapeutic use of antibiotics, ionophores or sulfa drugs is prohibited for market animals.” This also goes for growth hormones. I could understand this if the GAP 5-Step™ program were aimed solely at organic beef production, but it isn’t. Rather, it’s aimed at all methods of beef production.

Thus, any animal produced with such products is immediately disqualified from the program. The animal can still be used for food – but it won’t get the GAP stamp of approval. How is this an animal welfare issue? It’s not even a food safety issue!

It’s actually an elitist issue. The food isn’t good enough for shoppers of stores like Whole Foods, but it can be used for people who can’t afford to shop in such stores – even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this meat. I contacted GAP about this and received a reply that didn’t directly address my question.

Another area of confusion is the use of lariats, which the standards restrict to use “only by handlers who are experts in the use of this tool” after being trained “using dummies or other non-living targets.” Expertise is established by testing.

So, a person could practice roping on a dummy, develop a level of skill and pass a test. This would qualify him as an “expert.” An expert who has never roped a live animal? This could definitely be an animal welfare issue!

These are but a couple of examples that simply don’t hold water. Once these types of standards are established and accepted, they are frequently used as guidelines for similar programs or possibly even regulations.

I am very supportive of animal welfare, but many of these standards are poorly thought out. It’s as though someone who “grew up without much, if any, contact with animals” helped to develop them.

--Dave Sjeklocha is a feedlot consulting veterinarian at the Haskell County Animal Hospital in Sublette, KS. Contact him at 620/675-8180 or drdave@wbsnet.org.

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Three top U.S. veterinarians provide tightly focused discussion of specific beef cattle disease and welfare topics.

Contributors

Dave Sjeklocha

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is operations manager of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS.

Mike Apley

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

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