News & Politics

Don't Believe Whole Foods—There's Nothing Humane About Its Meat

Animal welfare takes a far second to the profit motive.

Photo Credit: Aspersions

Whole Foods goes further than any other major grocer to advertise its alleged humane treatment of animals. Consumers are confronted with mountains of marketing materials describing the happy lives of the animals raised on the farms that produce the products lining Whole Foods’ shelves.

The implication is that the company cares about the treatment of animals, and that the purchase of animal-based products can be accomplished without causing suffering. Competitors may hurt animals, but Whole Foods can be trusted.

It’s clever marketing—but it doesn’t represent the reality.

The company’s published animal welfare standards are jargon-intensive, yet often meaningless. For example, Whole Foods claims its chickens aren’t raised “in cages,” implying that its competitors’ chickens are raised in battery cages. Such cages aren't even legal in some parts of the U.S., and numerous major brands have already committed to eliminating them altogether. 

Preferred industry practice, the supposed humane method, is to raise chickens in enormous sheds, where they are densely packed, denied natural environments and poorly treated. Undercover footage shows the brutal abuse chickens face from workers, who are regularly caught beating, injuring and killing the animals.

Every chicken raised for meat ends its life terrified and shackled upside down before having her throat slit. If the chicken is lucky, she will be dead before being dropped into a vat and boiled alive to remove her feathers. Since male chicks are useless to suppliers, they're ground alive—yes, this actually still happens.

Whole Foods says almost nothing about prescribed slaughter practices on any of its official animal welfare pages, because it knows consumers would be less than satisfied to see the miserable ends all of its animals meet in order to produce the meat products on its shelves. The company admits its already weak animal welfare standards don’t apply to all members of every species. For no given reason, a subset of pigs are explicitly exempt in multiple regions.

Consumers may notice the absence of information about dairy cows. These animals face horrifying emotional suffering. To produce dairy, cows are repeatedly impregnated and have their young forcibly taken from them. Cows will cry for days for their missing calves. These cows are then subjected to milking processes that are unnatural and often painful.

Once a female bovine body is too deteriorated to keep producing milk, she’ll be shipped to slaughter. The fictional Netflix movie Okja is a better representation of actual cow conditions than the advertising promoted by Whole Foods.

The luckiest cows are the ones who are killed for meat, rather than subjected to repeated emotional torment in the dairy industry.

These are just some of the reasons why People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a 2015 class action lawsuit against Whole Foods in a California court. While the lawsuit was tossed on a narrow reading of a fraud allegation, Whole Foods did not provide evidence its animals are treated humanely.

The formal complaint from PETA read in part:

“The entire audit process for Whole Foods’ animal welfare standards is a sham because it occurs infrequently and violations of the standards do not cause loss of certification.”

While Whole Foods dismissed the allegations, PETA provided ample evidence to the public supporting its claims specifically about the treatment of pigs. PETA also notes that “an infant pig mortality rate and a daily mortality rate for its poultry suppliers that are higher than the industries’ averages.”

Consumers don’t need to follow PETA’s legal sagas to figure out whether Whole Foods is being truthful or not. There isn’t any way to produce meat and dairy without creating unnatural environments that treat animals’ welfare as second to the corporate profit motive.

Consumers are increasingly turning to healthier and more ethical styles of eating that eliminate animal products altogether. Whole Foods is aware of the trend and stocks more vegan products than almost any other grocer.

Consumers should make it clear from their purchasing choices that they insist on truly humane alternatives, and not just marketing hype. 

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Chris Sosa is the former Senior Editor of AlterNet. His work also appears in Mic, Salon, Care2, Huffington Post and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSosa.