Posts Tagged ‘Global Animal Partnership’
In preparation for this year’s Thanksgiving feast, more consumers than ever before will seek turkeys that have been humanely raised. For these shoppers, optimistic messages offered by Whole Foods and other animal welfare–oriented food retailers will provide assurance that they’re making an ethical food choice. “Our birds live in harmony with the environment and we allow them plenty of room to roam,” explains a Diestel Turkey Ranch brochure, prominently displayed at many Whole Foods meat counters. Diestel turkeys raised at the Ranch’s main farm earn a 5+ welfare mark—the highest—from the nonprofit Global Animal Partnership, which contracts with third-party certifiers and administers the company’s rating system for humanely raised animal products. Diestel is one of only a handful of Whole Foods meat suppliers out of about 2,100 to achieve this remarkable distinction. So, along with the Diestel’s promise that “on our ranch a turkey can truly be a turkey,” it seems safe to assume that the Diestel turkeys sold at Whole Foods lived a decent life.
In preparation for a talk I’m giving to a roomful of food and agriculture writers tomorrow, I revisited some of the research I did last year on welfare labeling. In general terms, my opinion on these value-added markers of humane treatment hasn’t much changed: they’re basically a sham.
Still, many consumers look for them. Whole Foods has capitalized on the emerging desire to purchase “humanely raised” animal products by seeking certification from an organization known as Global Animal Partnership. GAP offers a tiered rating system, with 1 being the least rigorous and 5+ the most. John Mackey, a vegan and WF’s founder, played a direct role in helping to design these standards.
The differences between 1 and 5+ are significant. Consider chickens. A level 1 rating (to cite only a few examples) makes no stipulations regarding stocking density, permits single-legged catching, and requires zero outdoor access. A level 5 rating also has no stocking density requirements but requires constant pasturage and bans single legged catching, stipulating that “chickens must be caught by the body with both hands.”
From a genuine welfare perspective, differences such as these are existentially irrelevant. It’s never in the interest of a chicken’s welfare to be scooped up and trucked to the slaughterhouse. From a lesser-of-evils perspective, though, the ratings matter and, as such, it’s therefore important to note that there are no incentives for producers to graduate from 1 to 5+. A producer need only meet the minimum threshold of 1 to make it into Whole Foods.
But here’s the thing: a comparison to the pre-existing “organic” label for animal products reveals that the lowness of the GAP threshold renders its level 1 rating almost redundant because, with very few exceptions, the level 1 requirements are no different than the “organic” requirements. In some cases they’re notably worse.
Both standards agree on the following (again, this is not a comprehensive list): they allow disbudding and castration without anesthesia; make no stipulations regarding ammonia levels, periods of darkness, or stocking density in chicken sheds; they do not have specified space allowances for housed pigs; they permit septum rings and ear notching; they make no limits on how chickens are picked up; neither has a litter management program for turkeys; and they do not address slaughter standards.
As noted, there are differences between the labels. Organic certification requires that pigs have outdoor access while GAP level 1 does not; organic allows tail docking while GAP level 1 does not; organic requires windbreaks for pastured cattle while GAP level 1 does not; organic has no limit on how long cattle can travel to slaughter wile GAP level 1 limits that time to 25 hours. These differences notwithstanding, a comparison between the organic and GAP level 1 labels are, for all intents and purposes, a wash.
Which raises an interesting question: why, if welfare is the concern, seek a new label in addition to “organic”? If GAP 1 is effectively the same as certified organic, and if there is no incentive for producers to climb the ladder of welfare improvements, then why bother with the promotion of a separate “welfare” label?
The only answer that I can think of is that doing so allows producers and retailers to charge more for the animal products that, by labeling them both “organic” and “GAP certified,” will make consumers feel that much better about eating the flesh of an animal who, in the end, could give a cluck what label you stuck to his dead body.