Consumers concerned about the past life of their meats

August 8, 2011- Source: The Globe & Mail

Consumers concerned about the past life of their meats are about to get clarity from one chain of organic grocery stores. Whole Foods Market Inc., a U.S.- based retailer that operates the country’s largest chain of natural and organic food supermarkets, is extending an innovative animal welfare labelling program to its 6 Canadian stores this week. Food savvy consumers are increasingly interested in on-farm conditions. There is a growing concern of how animals are raised for food. Instead of roaming on farms that resemble natural habitats, most agricultural animals are kept in barn stalls and on feedlots designed for uniform growth, fattening and fast market readiness. Confined environments restrict certain natural behaviours and can cause stress that leads to new negative behaviours (cannibalism) which in turn requires physical modifications such as removing pigs teeth or tails to deter biting. In these scenerios, animals are rarely anesthetized. According to a Report of the Pew Commussion on Industrial Farm Animal Production, livestock comfort in the modern food system has become a secondary concern. Few national laws address animal welfare. Instead of pursuing legislative change, welfare advocates back by a growing body of science have made headway by establishing relationships with major retailers. Some fast food chains have all begun marketing welfare- related procurement decisions that range from using cage-free eggs to more humane methods of slaughter. Whole Foods is the first mass supermarket to adopt animal welfare standards for meat. Products are color-coded that correspond with a five step rating that reflects farmers’ progression along a welfare spectrum. To progress, farms are ranked on everything from the space animals are allotted to the amount of time they spend outdoors and the distance to slaughter destination.