Austin, TX—Whole Foods Market Inc. will now feature animal welfare ratings on meat products in all of its stores. The rating system, created by the nonprofit Global Animal Partnership (GAP), is designed to let shoppers learn more about how animals are treated by a manufacturer.

The “5-step” system applies to beef, pork and chicken products. Color-coded signs and stickers to be found in meat aisles will clue consumers in to what the labels mean. A “1” rating designates animal welfare positives like no crates, cages or crowding. A “5-plus” rating is the highest available, and designates meat from animals that spend their entire lives on one farm and are treated well. In addition to informing consumers, GAP believes the program can serve as an incentive to producers to better their animal welfare standards.

According to Whole Foods Market, over 1,200 products already found on its shelves have received the GAP certification. The company indicates that the program will be fully implemented by May 9, and that the labeling will eventually be expanded to include other kinds of protein. “It’s been exciting to see consumers’ growing interest in the welfare of farm animals, and, increasingly, many are eager to get as much information as they can about the farms and their practices,” says Miyun Park, executive director of GAP.

This latest program comes on the heels of the adoption of new seafood products standards by Whole Foods Market. The chain already employs certain standards for all meat products, including a requirement that animals be raised on a vegetarian diet, without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. “We’re already in discussions with other purveyors—both restaurants and grocers—who, like Whole Foods Market, are committed to higher welfare for animals in agriculture,” Park says.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2011 (online 2/11/11)